My Turn: Increasing the gas tax is the wrong solution
Millions of Americans have opted to drive smaller cars that conserve energy. The days of huge gas-guzzling barges are largely a distant memory. Cars have become lighter and engines have become more efficient to comply with stricter EPA emissions and higher miles-per-gallon mandates. All of this is good news for the planet and for our pocketbooks.
Now comes a chorus of zealous legislators, both state and federal, calling for a dramatic increase in fuel taxes to the tune of a combined fuel tax increase of over 30 cents a gallon to pay for highway projects. They sing a siren song of how our transportation infrastructure is crumbling. A gloomy narrative of unsafe bridges, roads needing extensive repair and wider interstate highways and prophesies of an Armageddon of death and destruction will happen unless they saddle the already overtaxed average Joe with more and more taxes to help pay for these projects. To add insult to injury, an even crueler plan is being cooked up to assess all drivers on the amount of miles that they drive to compensate for the loss of state and federal revenue from the use of more fuel-efficient vehicles. No good deed goes unpunished.
The New Hampshire economy is fragile, and saddling those who can least afford another hefty tax increase is not the best way to solve the infrastructure problems. There is currently enough New Hampshire fuel tax revenue to maintain much of our highway program. The rub is in the traffic corridor bordering Massachusetts. These are bedroom communities for New Hampshire residents who commute to work in Massachusetts for higher-paying jobs. The state Department of Transportation solution to the dramatic increase in traffic congestion in that region is to widen the interstate highways. This will cost a huge amount of money – hence the increase in fuel taxes to pay for it.
A better way to pay for it could be accomplished with more toll stations, toll increases or allowing alternative private toll roads to be built.
This gets the families living in Coos County off the hook for paying for expensive road projects that they may never use. It is grossly unfair to burden those in the most economically vulnerable part of our state with tax increases that only benefit those who are already doing very well in the lower part of the state.
This increased tax burden will fall most heavily on poor and middle-class families all over the state.
More bus and a light-rail service to Boston, along with more park-and-ride areas and carpooling, are simple and cost-effective solutions. “Crying wolf” only serves a lobby of politically well-connected fat cats who will reap million in profits from expensive highway projects.
(Jim Baer lives in Concord.)