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Gingrich blasts Romney for ‘gun tax’ hike in Mass.

Newt Gingrich campaigned outside of a polling station today in Manchester, N.H.

Charles Dharapak/AP

Newt Gingrich campaigned outside of a polling station today in Manchester, N.H.

Looking ahead to the South Carolina primary, Newt Gingrich has opened yet another line of attack against Mitt Romney, accusing him of “raising taxes on guns by 400 percent” when he was governor of Massachusetts.

Gingrich has a new video and a website -- www.romneytaxes.com - highlighting the “tax” and has begun talking it up on the trail to try to bolster his argument that Romney is a “Massachusetts moderate” out of step with the party’s conservative voters.

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“He raised taxes on owning a gun, a topic we will talk about a great deal in South Carolina, where they think registering a gun and having it taxed by the government is not a very clever idea,” Gingrich said yesterday in Manchester, N.H.

The charge could create a false impression.

The “tax” Gingrich refers to was in fact a fee on gun licenses that Romney raised in 2003 as part of his administration’s effort that year to scour the tax code for loopholes it could close and fees it could hike to close a budget deficit.

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Romney initially proposed raising the fee for a gun license from $25 to $75, but the Legislature bumped it to $100, and Romney signed that increase into law, according to James Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners Action League, a Massachusetts gun rights group.

The following year, Romney worked with the Legislature to increase the duration of a gun license from four to six years, which had the effect of mitigating the higher gun license fee. So a gun license that used to cost $25 for 4 years ($6.25 per year) became $100 for 6 years ($16.66 per year).

All told, Romney raised fees by about $375 million and closed tax loopholes that raised another $375 million in revenue, according to Michael J. Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, a nonpartisan, business-backed budget watchdog group.

Romney has long argued that fees are not taxes because they are charged for specific services. But others, including gun owners in Massachusetts – who number about 200,000 – have rejected that distinction.

“It’s a tax on our rights. Period,” Wallace said today.

Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com.
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