Former N.H. House speaker raises gas tax alternative
The state shouldn’t raise the gas tax to pay for needed highway repairs, Rep. Bill O’Brien said in an email to his colleagues yesterday.
Instead, the Republican former House speaker announced he will introduce a floor amendment before a vote on the increase tomorrow. He said the amendment would eliminate expenditures from the highway fund for any purpose other than road and bridge projects.
“We shouldn’t be raising alarm among voters about deficient roads and bridges” and then spending that money for other purposes, O’Brien said in an interview following his announcement.
The state has more than 1,600 miles of road rated in poor condition. It has red-listed 140 state and 355 municipal bridges, meaning it deems them structurally deficient and recommends they be closed, repaired or replaced.
Several agencies besides the Department of Transportation receive money out of the highway fund. The Department of Safety receives the largest amount after transportation, close to $75 million of nearly $260 million appropriated annually. All the other agencies receive a combined $3 million.
Democratic Rep. David Campbell, sponsor of the increase, said O’Brien’s solution “plugs a hole in the state highway budget by creating a hole in the safety budget.”
Gov. Maggie Hassan’s office said in a statement yesterday that cutting the Department of Safety out of highway funds would have a devastating effect on public safety and jeopardize more than 300 trooper positions paid for in part with that money.
The gas tax, 18 cents per gallon, is the lowest in the Northeast and hasn’t been raised since 1991. Campbell’s bill, which was approved unanimously by the bipartisan committee where it was introduced, would raise the tax ultimately 15 cents by 2017.