Nashua Telegraph: NH House panel backs smaller gas tax hike; Nashua’s Campbell on board with compromise
By KEVIN LANDRIGAN
CONCORD – The New Hampshire House’s tax bill writing committee trimmed the proposed increase in the state gasoline tax Tuesday with the blessing of its chief Nashua author.
Rep. David Campbell, D-Nashua, said raising the 18-cent-a-gallon tax to 30 cents by mid-2015 will complete the widening of Interstate 93, pave nearly 500 miles of roads annually and reduce the number of red-listed bridges that will one day be too unsafe to drive upon.
“This will stop the crisis and start us moving in the right direction,” said Campbell after the House Ways and Means Committee voted 11-7 to endorse the smaller tax hike. “I think this has made the bill stronger and hopefully more politically appealing for the members.”
But even the smaller increase attracted just as much opposition from Republican lawmakers, fiscal conservatives and trucking industry leaders as did the 15-cent increase the House initially approved two weeks ago.
All Republicans on the panel opposed it, while all 11 House Democrats on the committee voted in favor.
“There’s no difference here; it’s still a slow death that is going to cost the average trucker $2,100 a year,” said Robert Sculley, president of the New Hampshire Motor Transport Association.
House Republican Leader Gene Chandler of Bartlett said the bill is bad timing for a middle class battered by the long economic recession.
“Taking hundreds of millions of dollars out of the pockets of New Hampshire consumers during these tough economic times is not the appropriate solution to fixing our roads and bridges,” Chandler said in a statement. “Quite simply, this is the wrong bill at the wrong time. I’m happy the Republicans on Ways and Means stuck with New Hampshire families and small businesses by voting against this bill.”
A spokesman for Americans for Prosperity said struggling families can’t afford what could be a nearly $2.50 increase on a full tank of gas for those whose cars have 20-gallon capacities.
“The House has the choice to grow the government or grow the New Hampshire economy. Unfortunately, it seems with this bill, they have made the wrong choice,” said Greg Moore, AFP-NH’s state director.
Rep. Virginia Lovejoy, D-Stratham, insisted studies show gas prices aren’t set by state taxes but by market demand.
“It is about what the price can bear, what the gas companies set it at,” Lovejoy said. “The thought that every penny goes directly down to the cost of a gallon of gasoline does not hold true.”
Campbell’s amended bill now would raise the gas tax by 4 cents each of the first three years. The cost for diesel fuel would go up 2 cents a gallon annually over the next six years.
Once fully implemented at 30 cents a gallon, New Hampshire’s gas tax would go from the bottom 10 in the nation to just outside the highest dozen states in the US. Over the next decade, the bill would raise $816 million in revenue, all of which would go for bridge and road maintenance or reconstruction.
Cities and towns would get $183 million and at its peak the tax would raise $92 million more a year.
“It is deceptive to talk about a $1 billion bill,” said House Ways and Means Chairwoman Susan Almy, D-Lebanon. “Anything we pass can get up to $1 billion if we run it up to 10 years, 20 years or 100 years.”
Almy championed the bill including a commission to study alternatives to the gas tax for supporting highway work as more motorists buy electric cars and higher fuel mileage causes revenues to plummet in the future.