Nashua Telegraph: House Public Works and Highways Committee unianimously approves plan to increase the state’s gasoline tax by 15 cents a gallon over four years.
By KEVIN LANDRIGAN
CONCORD – Nashua Democratic State Rep. David Campbell scored a huge political victory Thursday with a unanimous committee vote for his plan to increase over four years the state’s gasoline tax by 15 cents a gallon. Campbell said the increase would raise nearly $1 billion over the next decade and close an annual $74 million hole in financing state road and bridge work. “This is going to make a dent in the problem; not totally fix the problem,” Campbell said adding the shortfall has grown much worse since the State Senate killed a 15-cent increase the New Hampshire House approved four years ago. “We were at the tipping point back then. We are over the tipping point now.”
The 18-0 vote from the House Public Works and Highways Committee that Campbell chairs came after its ranking Republican and ex-Chairman, House Republican Leader Gene Chandler of Bartlett agreed to miss the vote. After the vote, conservative Republicans and their interest groups blasted the result. A day earlier, Campbell had dropped from his bill a three-year, $15 annual surcharge on auto and truck registrations and in turn bumped up the gas tax increase up to 15 from 12 cents per gallon.
Campbell pegged the average, annual increase of $80 for a motorist who drivers 12,000 miles a year with a car that gets 23 miles per gallon. “That’s the fix; that is what it is going to cost,” Campbell maintained. The gas tax of 18 cents per gallon hasn’t been raised since 1991. Once fully implemented, the state’s gas taxes would go from the 41st highest to tied for 11th highest currently according to the National Taxpayers Foundation.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Morse, R-Salem, vowed to fight the tax hike after sitting through the committee vote. “I don’t believe the Senate will pass a $1 billion increase in the middle of a recession,” Morse said. “I want the people of Nashua for example to know that in exchange for getting $611,000 more in highway aid a year their motorists are going to pay $5 million more in taxes.”
Robert Sculley, chief executive with the New Hampshire Motor Transport Association, said his members would get hit the hardest driving rigs that get five miles a gallon that run on more-expensive diesel fuel. “This kills my members and I am going to make it clear to every senator how devastating this could be to our entire industry,” Sculley said.
Campbell noted even though heavy trucks do more damage on the roads, this plan would increase diesel taxes 15 cents but over six years, a longer period of time, then the gasoline tax hike.
“At a time when working families are struggling to pay their bills and make ends meet, nearly doubling the gas tax is a crushing blow to our residents,” Greenland Republican Rep. Pamela Tucker, former deputy speaker and co-chair of the House Republican Alliance, said in a statement. “Right now, we need leaders who will fight to protect our taxpayers from raids on their hard-earned money, not politicians whose focus will simply be on growing more and more government.”
Corey Lewandowski is state director of the fiscally-conservative, Americans for Prosperity’s New Hampshire chapter. “Gasoline prices are at record highs and yet the House’s insatiable need for more revenue trumps what is in the best interest of the hard working families in this state,” Lewandowski said. “The war on energy consumers must come to an end. From filling up their tanks to heating their homes and turning on their lights, New Hampshire families are paying enough in energy bills. They deserve to keep more of their paychecks, not less.”
Lisa Shapiro, a lobbyist/economist representing the Aggregate Manufacturers of New Hampshire, supports the tax increase and estimate it would create 600-to-1,000 jobs a year mostly for construction crews. Cities and towns currently get 12 percent of all highway revenue for local road and bridge projects.
This bill would give communities 20 percent of the money from the gas tax increase and double annual aid for local bridge and road projects. To emphasize the point about this not being excessive, Campbell notes the bill raises enough to do $120 million in projects not included in the 10-year Transportation Plan including three in Nashua such as a reconstruction of Broad Street.
But that deferred project list totals $250 million. The gas tax increase would pay the $250 million to complete the widening of Interstate 93 and dramatically reduce the number of dangerous or so-called Red Listed Bridges over both state and local roads. Gov. Maggie Hassan has not taken a position on the gasoline tax hike but praised Campbell and Morse for identifying the need for more infrastructure spending.
Morse champions his one-casino bill as a “no-tax” way to dedicate more money for roads and bridges.