Survey: N.H. residents oppose gas tax increase
A majority of New Hampshire residents oppose a gas tax increase, but opposition drops considerably if all the money would be guaranteed to go to road and bridge projects, a new survey by the UNH Survey Center shows.
In the survey, commissioned by the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce, 67 percent of respondents said they oppose a gas tax increase of 8 to 10 cents. But that number drops to 49 percent if all the money is earmarked for roads and bridges.
“If people can understand where monies are going more clearly then they’re more supportive of it,” said Andy Smith, director of the UNH Survey Center. “Especially this time of year when people are driving on the frost heaves.”
Still, a majority of those against a gas tax are strongly against it, which makes it a tough political issue. The New Hampshire Senate is working through a bill that would increase the tax by 4 cents per gallon, which would designate all $32 million in new money to road and bridge projects.
The survey of 519 residents also asked questions about the Northern Pass project, expanded gambling and expanding Massachusetts’s commuter rail into New Hampshire.
Support for Northern Pass was 46 percent, slightly up from previous surveys and the highest since the UNH Survey Center began asking about the project in April 2011. Knowledge of the project is increasing, with just 17 percent saying they know nothing about the proposal. But only 13 percent of respondents are very familiar with the project. Northern Pass would send power from Hydro-Quebec through New Hampshire into the New England energy grid.
It’s been opposed by groups that fear the power lines will take away from New Hampshire’s scenic beauty and diminish the tourism industry. Lawmakers are dealing with several bills this session that would give favor to projects that bury lines, but this poll showed a plurality of voters don’t want the lines buried if it will raise their energy rates. Northern Pass’s current proposal would bury eight miles of lines. It will cost roughly $20 million per mile to bury those lines, compared to $3.5 million per mile for above-ground lines, Northern Pass spokesman Mike Skelton said.
Expanded gambling remains popular among New Hampshire residents, according to the survey. Although 58 percent support expanded gambling, only 47 percent would support a casino in their town.
Even with a majority of support from residents, the New Hampshire House defeated a bill to allow one highly regulated casino again this year. Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, had been pushing for a casino to help pay for infrastructure and other needs. The Senate will vote on another gambling bill Thursday that allows for two casinos, but it is unlikely to gain support from the House.
In the survey, 16 percent of people said they’d be more likely to support a casino if Massachusetts began building one. The state’s gaming commission will issue a license in May for a casino in either Revere or Everett, Mass., cities about 40 minutes from the New Hampshire border. Hassan and casino supporters say these casinos will draw $75 million a year out of New Hampshire.
Finally, the survey showed 68 percent of people want to see Boston’s commuter rail extended into New Hampshire, even at a high cost to the state. The state Department of Transportation is in the middle of a study on the costs and feasibility of bringing the rail to Concord. Two-thirds of voters said a cost to the state of $100 million up front and $15 million annually wouldn’t change their views on the project. At a presentation earlier this month, DOT officials said expanding the rail just to Manchester could cost $8 million to $10 million annually.
“We were very encouraged to see that over 50 percent . . . said that they are okay with the state absorbing costs if it means economic development and bringing passenger rail into New Hampshire,” said Chris Williams, president of the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce.
The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percent.
(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3390 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kronayne.)