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House panel endorses bill to raise N.H.’s gas tax by 15 cents

A proposal to raise New Hampshire’s gas tax by 15 cents over four years is headed to the House floor with a bipartisan endorsement from the House Public Works and Highways Committee.

The panel voted yesterday, 18-0, to recommend the Democratic-led House pass the bill, which is sponsored by the committee’s chairman, Rep. David Campbell, a Nashua Democrat. (Minority Leader Gene Chandler, a Bartlett Republican, is a member of the committee but wasn’t present for the vote.)

The bill would raise the gasoline tax from 18 cents per gallon to 33 cents per gallon over the next four years – by 4 cents this year, next year and in 2015, then by 3 cents in 2016. For diesel fuel, the tax also would increase by 15 cents, but the hike would be spread over six years, not four.

Advocates say it would mean nearly $981 million in extra revenue over the next decade for badly needed transportation-infrastructure projects. Campbell said that would be enough to complete the widening of Interstate 93 in southern New Hampshire, improve the state’s deteriorating network of roads and bridges, take on some deferred projects and send nearly $203 million more over the next 10 years to towns and cities in the form of block grants.

“This is not a panacea. Raising this money – which some are screaming about, ‘it’s so much money’ – is just going to dent the problem. It’s not going to fix the whole problem,” Campbell told the committee yesterday. “And now, go the other way: Don’t fix the problem, and watch it careen out of control. And that’s how grave the stakes are here.”

The bill will go to the House floor next week. If it passes, it will go to the House Ways and Means Committee, since it deals with state revenues, and then go back to the House floor for a second vote. If it passes a second time, it will head to the Republican-led Senate.

But Sen. Chuck Morse, a Salem Republican and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, thinks that’s as far as it will go.

“I don’t think this would pass the Senate,” Morse told reporters yesterday, “because a billion-dollar tax on citizens today, when we’re in a recession, is not going to help us get out of this.”

Morse is co-sponsoring a bill in the Senate that would use money from a casino license for, among other things, transportation infrastructure.

Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, has said she’s open to an increase in the gas tax but hasn’t specifically endorsed Campbell’s bill.

New Hampshire’s gas tax of 18 cents a gallon was last raised in 1991. Campbell’s original proposal would have raised the gas tax by 12 cents over three years, to 30 cents per gallon, and increased vehicle registration fees by $15 over the same period.

But he dropped the $15 increase, instead bumping the proposed gas tax increase up an additional 3 cents.

The revenue from the increased tax would go into a new dedicated fund within the state’s highway fund, providing money for state projects, paving and bridge repairs as well as nearly doubling state aid to local communities in the form of block grants.

Over the next 10 years, that would mean an estimated $3 million more in block grants for Concord, $6.9 million more for Manchester and $5.4 million more for Nashua, according to a Department of Transportation analysis.

And once fully implemented, Campbell said, the 15-cent increase would cost the average driver about $80 more a year, assuming 12,000 miles driven a year in a vehicle averaging 22.6 miles per gallon.

“It is a user fee. It’s the ultimate user fee,” Campbell said. “It’s fair because the more you drive, the more you pay.”

But the proposed increase is too much, said Corey Lewandowski, director of the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group.

“The War on Energy Consumers must come to an end,” Lewandowski said in a statement. “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.”

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or
bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

When I go up to Maine thru Gray and come back ina day, it costs me $7.50. Maine depends on tourism for much of its' revenue, so it hasn't seemed to hurt them to have such high tolls, that seems a better way to raise revenue for roads.

This is another welcome stranger tax aimed as much at visitors like the room and meals tax. By not raising registrations but raising the tax it's self, they get everyone passing through and us. Saying it is a user fee doesn't hold water in NH. This is a rural state where everyone has to travel just to buy food. I guess the meals on wheels will go the way of the 8oz tuna can and get smaller and smaller and smaller.

This is a very unfair tax increase...it will hit people with lower gas mileage vehicles the hardest...what about hybrid car owners?...how will they pay their fair share?

I'm just ecstatic about the idea of providing $15 million to Concord, Manchester and Nashua. Last time I checked, they weren't the only cities in the State.

A far more logical plan would be to charge tolls for those most using I-93 with 100% of the funds to be used to pay back a bond for widening. Why do all these people feel everyone else in the state must pay for them to get home 10 minutes quicker. I say that because except for commute times, I have never had a problem on I-93....... Second question would be - the money from the proposed gas tax. It is said it will be used for roads, but will other money (the present amount allocated) just be diverted off and used elsewhere saying they now have new dedicated money. It will end up the tax payer does not get ahead because the money does not increase for the roads.

the democrat TAX and SPEND party is quickly living up to its well deserved reputation

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