Letter: It’s not unconstitutional – but it’s also not right
In her Jan. 19 column (“We’re not misusing highway funds,” Sunday Monitor Forum) Concord state Rep. Candace Bouchard says my Jan. 12 column was misleading and that I implied the state Department of Transportation is unconstitutionally diverting New Hampshire’s Highway Trust Funds.
For 23 years, the state has diverted millions of federal highway dollars to pay for non-highway projects – from trolleys to trains. There is no reason to believe those diversions were unconstitutional. That doesn’t make them good policy.
Proponents of a gas tax increase build their case on inflation and declining revenue. They say diversions don’t contribute to the problem because diversions don’t affect revenue (true, but irrelevant), they’re legal (ditto) and they’re required (not true).
The state has not signaled any shift in its policy of diverting supposedly scarce funds from the revenue-producing highway side of its business to the revenue consuming transit side.
Even during last year’s failed effort to raise the gas tax, while state officials were telling us highway revenue was declining, they were still shamelessly diverting highway dollars to pay for a rail study and a train station.
This year, tax proponents are again bombarding us with orchestrated articles, editorials and columns telling us we must increase the gas tax – as if there are no other options.
As a prerequisite to raising the gas tax rate, diversions should be ended – not because they’re illegal, but because they’re diversions. They divert scarce highway revenue away from the critical highway and bridge improvements they were collected for.
As Transportation Commissioner Chris Clement says, “it’s a catastrophic situation.” We can no longer afford to divert highway funds.