Hassan Cuts Off Raising Beer Tax

Concord — Gov. Maggie Hassan delivered a blunt message about those at the Statehouse who want to raise the tax on beer:

“As the Patriots head to the Super Bowl, I don’t think now is the time to increase the beer tax,” she quipped.

Before the idea could gain any political traction, Hassan vowed yesterday to veto legislation to raise the state’s beer tax rate by a third. She told reporters that any increase would be bad for the economy and also hit both large and small beer manufacturers as well as consumers.

But the new governor was more guarded about her view on two other revenue-raising proposals.

Hassan declined to say if she could support or would oppose raising the state’s gasoline tax of 18 cents a gallon for the first time since 1991. Rep. David Campbell, D-Nashua, has proposed raising that levy by 12 cents over the next three years.

The state’s infrastructure is in need of additional revenue, Hassan said.

In last fall’s campaign, she said it was a mistake for the Republican-led Legislature to repeal a $30 annual surcharge that gets tacked onto auto and truck registrations.

The increase that lawmakers first approved in 2009 raised nearly $50 million a year for road and bridge work.

The Democratic chief executive declined to confirm whether revenue from a proposed southern New Hampshire casino would be part of the two-year state budget plan she presents to the Legislature next month.

In her campaign for the office and since, Hassan has endorsed awarding a single casino franchise after a competitive bid.

Ashley Pratte, executive director for the fiscally and socially conservative Cornerstone Action NH, warned Hassan and the Legislature to resist the allure of gambling money.

“So the question becomes, is building a casino here in New Hampshire really an idea that stems from innovation, or is it more an act of desperation in a search to find new revenue opportunities?” Pratte wrote in an opinion column she released Wednesday. “Responsible governing is critical, and making rash decisions that could have a lasting impact on our state would be harmful to Granite Staters.”

Rep. Chuck Weed, D-Keene, has proposed raising the beer tax by 10 cents a gallon. It’s 30 cents currently.

“Government serves a necessary service that isn’t provided by the private sector,” Weed said. “Revenue-starved government is not capable of doing what needs to be done.”

The beer tax is paid at the wholesale level, but opponents insist any increase would be passed on to consumers in higher prices for a six-pack.

Hassan spokesman Marc Goldberg said small or so-called craft brew making is a growing industry, and this beer tax hike would slow its growth.

“She feels that raising the beer tax would negatively impact the economy and hurt New Hampshire brewers, small and large, who are important employers throughout the state,” Goldberg said.

New Hampshire has the nation’s highest beer sales per capita but a lot of its product is sold to residents who come across the border from Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont.

Those three neighboring states all have higher beer taxes and also add bottle deposit fees onto each sale.

Weed’s bill that goes before the House Ways and Means Committee for a hearing next Thursday would divert the proceeds from the tax increase to the state’s alcohol abuse prevention and treatment program.

State law requires that 5 percent of liquor sales go into this fund, but for the past four years that law has been suspended.

The beer tax increase would raise about $4.3 million a year.