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N.H. senator: If gas tax bill doesn’t pass, trucking industry will be targeted

The prime Republican sponsor of a bill to increase the gas tax said if the bill doesn’t pass, he will seek a repeal of laws that benefit the trucking industry, including a 2005 bill that increased the weight trucks can carry by 24,000 pounds.

“That added weight is helping to destroy our roads, and what do we hear from them? ‘We don’t want to help you,’ ” Sen. Jim Rausch, a Derry Republican, said yesterday.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee heard testimony for nearly four hours on Rausch’s bill to increase the gas tax by 4 cents this year and again in 2018, then tie future increases to the consumer price index. The state’s gas tax of 18 cents per gallon hasn’t changed since 1991, making it difficult for the state Department of Transportation to complete projects as inflation causes costs to rise.

Rausch told the committee this is not a tax but a user fee, because how much it affects people will depend directly on how much they drive on the state’s roads.

Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, has said she will sign the bill if it comes to her desk. But it faces a rocky road to get through the Senate. Senate President Chuck Morse, a Salem Republican, asked pointed questions yesterday that made his opposition clear. Sen. Bob Odell, a Lempster Republican, said he’s open to discussing a one-time increase but does not support putting future increases into law now.

“I’d like to make it perfectly clear, whether you call it a road toll or a gas tax, we’re not changing the debate that we’ve had for years,” Morse said to Rausch. “While you and the governor agree with indexing, I disagree with you completely.”

The state’s highway fund is set to start 2016 with a $48 million deficit, said department Commissioner Chris Clement. All of the money from the proposed increase, about $31.9 million in 2015, would go to the Department of Transportation’s highway fund, but the bill doesn’t spell out which projects it will go toward. If the Legislature can’t find money to repair the roads, it will need to look for ways to minimize damages, such as limiting how much weight trucks can carry, Rausch said.

“I’ve been up here for 14 years. You know how many times I’ve heard, ‘Oh, we’ll take care of it next year’?” Rausch said. “Everything I’ve tried has failed, so let’s go back to the user fee, let’s finally say, ‘If you want these roads, let’s take care of them.’ ”

But representatives from transportation and other industries that rely on trucking said Rausch’s statement that he’ll try to decrease weight limits if they don’t comply is retaliatory and would hurt productivity while raising prices for consumers.

“Everything in our state is moved by truck – everything,” said Bob Sculley, president of the New Hampshire Motor Transport Association, which opposes the bill. “If you in fact decrease loads that have been legally able to travel on our roads, you are going to end up having the average New Hampshire citizen pay more for everything they do in the state.”

Trucks already pay thousands of dollars in taxes and fees without accounting for fuel, Sculley said. Many of those trucks drive more than 100,000 miles per year, so an increase in fuel costs would be significant, he said.

Jasen Stock of the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association said he didn’t hear Rausch’s comments, but that a reduction in weight limit would have a negative and dramatic effect on the forestry industry.

Supporters of the bill said fixing the state’s roads and bridges is key to bringing in new businesses, growing the economy and keeping young people here. Clement said the Department of Transportation would need to eliminate as many as 700 jobs if it can’t fill the expected 2016 deficit. But opponents said the increase would hurt drivers and consumers and that putting a formula for future increases into law now wouldn’t allow for public and legislative input later.

Both Rausch and Morse support expanded gambling as a means for bringing more revenue into the state for roads and bridges.

Under the gas tax bill, the state treasurer would be required to calculate increases and share them with the governor, the president of the senate and the speaker of the House up to 30 days before the increase is in place. It would also be sent to the commissioner of the Department of Safety who must post it publicly. Rausch also said it would be possible for future Legislatures to change the formula or amend the bill if they think the increase is unsustainable.

“If the lobbyists are doing their jobs, I’m assuming somebody’s going to monitor it,” he said.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee will make a recommendation March 4, then send the bill to the full Senate.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

Legacy Comments14

What gets me is the mentality on budgets. If I don't spend it down, I loose it... like it's a game. I saw it on the local, state and federal levels. Either June/july or 1st of the year... Oh I got x amount left in my budget I have to spend. I don't really need this, or that, but we can use them somewhere... how much of that happens in this state? An antiquated billing system. A supervisor clerk who insists on paper copy filing system, an expensive underused accounting/billing system. I bet this state is hemorrhaging money like there is no tomorrow! More regulations, more agencies to monitor regulations, said agencies are now union and raises are a contractual obligation, more money equates to more tax revenue to generate, which begets higher product costs, with begets more wages, which begets higher yet product costs. It is a cyclic problem that cant be stopped, unless we remove that added regulation, enforcement, etc. Why shouldn't trucks pay more for damaging our roads. Passenger vehicles, and other people movers create minimal wear and tear. What was the article last year about overweight vehicles? One over weight truck accelerates road wear by several months....

One more time! Get the state cops, EPA and everyone else out of the highway funds and there won't be a funding problem. For Rausch to practice legislation by intimidation is just wrong. Threatening NH businesses by filing retaliatory legislation is not the way to get things done and he should know better. Indexing is the wrong way to do this because no one knows what the economy will be like in the future. The Legislature also needs to keep in mind that congress is looking at up to a $.25 per gallon tax increase. The argument that people are using less fuel is true. They can't afford to go anywhere now, think of what another tax increase will do.

I don't quite understand your logic. If you move the State Police to a different department, you're still going to have to fund them. Moving things around doesn't eliminate their cost.

Your comment is not supported by the actual numbers. Mr Crank. Those items you are complaining about use a small portion of the highway budget. Sorry.

The citizens only have to help the legislature find $48 million in a state budget that is .......... a spit in the bucket.. I bet not one single LIDV can post what the State Budget is today and in 2004.

I'm wondering which legislator or relative of one has to have a bridge fall out from under them before someone does something to improve our roads and bridges.

Upping user fees to pay for road maintenance, repair and rebuilding is just common sense. It's the cost of doing business. People complain about Taxachusetts, but stop for a minute and consider how much better the economy is doing there. Here in NH, there is this pervasive attitude that we can roll up the highways and crawl into a hole because someone might have to pay for something. User fees put the costs where they belong instead of on the general taxes. I applaud Rausch for having the intelligence to understand the subject and the courage to put something forward.

"Lobbying (also lobby) is the act of attempting to influence decisions made by officials in the government, most often legislators or members of regulatory agencies" - a simple definition from Wiki. A lobbyist is merely a person who is paid to ague for a certain point. They will argue for either side for a fee. This is where Rausch plans on getting his "decision making information". Regardless if you have a D or an R by your name - a paid lobbyist is the last place to rely on honest information.

Read My Lips, This Is Not A Tax, It Is A User Fee. Many want to turn NH into Taxachussetts.

Jim Rausch, move to MA. you'll be happier their.

QUOTE: "highway fund is set to start 2016 with a $48 million deficit" - That figure is an absolute spit in the bucket - a rounding error. A challenge to the LIDV's in the crowd. ..... what is the State budget today and what percentage is the $48 million - guaranteed the math will stump them...they could of course surprise us but that has yet to happen

Why don't you "enlighten" us on your so called math skills? Put up or shut up.

I love the tolerance, inclusion and embracement of people who think differently. Such great principles that you progressives stand on.

ya proved my point - THANKS

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