Editorial: Raise the gas tax? Well, it’s about time.
The backfires could be heard within hours of Rep. David Campbell’s reasoned proposal Wednesday to raise the state gasoline tax from 18 cents per gallon to 30 cents. Campbell, a Nashua Democrat and chairman of the House Public Works and Highways Committee, also wants to increase vehicle registration fees by $15. The increase would be phased in over three years, and all of the money raised by the fee and tax increase would be used to repair the state’s crumbling roads and red-listed bridges.
“We adamantly oppose any increase in the gas tax or car registration fee,” said Corey Lewandowski, director of the state chapter of the conservative lobbying group, Americans for Prosperity. “Representative Campbell’s bill will increase the state gas tax by 67 percent over the next three years. The wages of New Hampshire residents will not increase that much over the same period of time. This is simply an unfair burden on them.”
“I don’t support it,” Salem Republican Sen. Chuck Morse said. “That’s directly out of the citizens’ pockets.” Morse would instead prefer to raise revenue by building a casino.
Critics of increasing the gas tax, which was last raised in 1991, need a math lesson. The increases Campbell is proposing would raise $115 million per year. Some of the revenue would be shared with cities and towns in the form of state transportation grants to help finance local road and bridge repairs. Some of the revenue would help pay to finish the widening of Interstate 93.
Yo-yoing gas prices mean that the 4-cent-per-year increase will scarcely be noticed. That’s not true of the $15 registration increase, which should be seen as a regressive evil made necessary by decades of deferred road maintenance. What critics don’t mention is that, though it may take time, taxpayers will get back far more than they’ll pay in additional taxes. The worse the roads they drive, and the faster those roads are repaired, the more they’ll get back.
Last year, the Federal Highway Administration estimated the annual added repair cost to motorists caused by bad roads and bridges. The figure for New Hampshire was $267 million or $259 per motorist. Since hitting just one nasty pothole can lead to a front-end repair bill that can top $1,000, that estimate seems conservative.
Additional repair costs are only one of the needless expenses that result from roads and bridges in poor and unsafe conditions. Vehicle values depreciate faster in places where road conditions are poor. Poor road conditions are a significant factor in one-third of all traffic fatalities, the highway administration said. Motor vehicle crashes cost New Hampshire more than $1 billion per year or $820 per resident in medical costs, time off from work, legal costs and travel delays.
Vehicle travel on New Hampshire roads increased by one-third between 1990 and 2010. Traffic delays, which cost Americans more than $100 billion per year in wasted time and gas, are increasing. Improving the roads and reducing congestion keeps money in the pocket of motorists.
Bad roads and congestion decrease air quality and increase health care costs. They make it harder for New Hampshire businesses to compete and cost consumers money in the form of higher prices for products. They make it harder for the state to attract and keep businesses, which means that they reduce tax revenue.
Critics of a gas tax increase should save the crocodile tears shed for consumers and drip them on something else. Raising the gas tax and vehicle registration fee in this case is a good deal for them.