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Sunday, June 7, 2009

Weekend Roundup- Budget Edition

We take a look at the weekend political columns.

In the Union Leader's "Under the State House Dome", Tom Fahey lays out three competing versions of the state budget:

The competing budgets lay out very different solutions. Gas tax versus toll hikes, gambling versus estate and capital-gains taxes; whether to loosen liquor controls, cut business tax credits and/or tap LCHIP money; and how to fund school building aid -- plenty of flash points.

Gambling runs the risk of outright House rejection. The Senate hates the capital-gains tax. Lawmakers and the governor's office have been holding brainstorming sessions on replacement taxes that haven't yet seen the light of day. They include a tax on refinanced debt and closing the limited liability corporation loophole on dividend taxes.

Of course, there's always the Republican plan -- throw all tax hikes in the trash and start cutting the budget. Unfortunately, they admit they don't know where to cut. They said they'd leave it to department heads, the folks they usually dismiss as "bureaucrats." In the GOP's eyes, they are now highly paid policy experts who know the budget best.

Fahey also has items on the business taxes increases in the budget, the dispute over whether the state can confiscate $110 million from a medical malpractice fund, and the debate over toll increases.

Lauren Dorgan's budget coverage makes it off the Viewpoints page with a full scene-setter in the Concord Monitor, but her column does address the chances of getting toll increases through the Executive Council:

After Lynch came out for vetoing the gas tax last month, lawmakers scrambled to figure out how to pay for road repairs. Hence the new Lynch/Senate "aggregation" plan, which hinges on the idea of raising tolls, including increases from $1 to $1.50 at Bedford and Hooksett.

But the Executive Council, which sets tolls, has given a frosty reception to the concept.

After all, councilors just raised tolls in 2007 from 75 cents to $1 - to raise them 50 cents now would mean doubling tolls in just a few years. And, the toll plan is matched with "aggregation," a.k.a. tapping toll booths to pay for repairs on nontolled highways for the first time ever, a plan that has few fans on the council.

"I would say, from what I've been hearing from my associate councilors, that it doesn't even have a half a vote," said Republican Councilor Ray Burton, an enthusiastic backer of the gas tax.

Pignatelli, who has never voted for a toll increase, said she might listen if a toll plan was paired with some relief for toll-ringed Merrimack. But aggregation is a nonstarter for her.

"I do not favor the aggregation of the highway system and the turnpike system," she said.

"It would not be an easy thing to explain why we're paying tolls in the southern part of the state to pay for roads in the North Country."

And in the Nashua Telegraph, Kevin Landrigan also covers tolls, but has word that Governor John Lynch is working with hard to invent new taxes to pay for the state's increased spending:

Gov. John Lynch continued to privately sound out lawmakers and other House players on revenue-raising proposals.

Until April, the three-term governor had been hoping that the federal stimulus cash, restrained spending, higher tobacco taxes, a new gambling tax and a slew of fees would be enough to balance the budget.

The spending and revenue trends of the late spring changed all that, and at this late hour, Lynch is left to scramble in search of ways to raise enough new money to put the state back in the black.

The always-cautious governor isn't tipping his hand about which revenue proposals he'd been willing to accept.

Lynch and associates sketched out the newest – and some believe most promising – revenue concept, which is to go after the untaxable income held by limited-liability companies.

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