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

Last modified: 2/22/2013 12:06:02 AM
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 or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

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