N.H. House panel pares proposed gas tax increase to 12 cents over 3 years

Last modified: 3/22/2013 8:35:26 AM
House Democrats yesterday pared down a proposed increase in the state’s gas tax, to 12 cents per gallon from 15 cents per gallon, though the proposal still faces loud opposition from Republicans.

The House Ways and Means Committee voted, 11-7, to endorse a modified version of a bill that passed the full House earlier this month. Instead of a 15 cent hike in the fuel tax, the bill now proposes a 12 cent hike, phased in over three years for gasoline and six years for diesel fuel.

“It doesn’t get us everywhere that we need to be, but it gets us a lot closer,” said Rep. Patricia Lovejoy, a Stratham Democrat and the tax-writing panel’s vice chairwoman, during a committee work session earlier in the day.

All 11 votes yesterday in favor of the bill were from Democrats, and all seven “no” votes came from Republicans.

New Hampshire’s gas tax has stood at 18 cents per gallon since 1991. Rep. David Campbell, a Nashua Democrat and chairman of the House Public Works and Highways Committee, has pushed this year to increase it, arguing the additional revenue is needed for the state’s deteriorating roads, red-listed bridges and infrastructure projects like the widening of Interstate 93.

“Both parties in this state speak of the New Hampshire Advantage,” said Rep. Thomas Schamberg, a Wilmot Democrat. “What is the advantage if you can’t get from there to here?”

The earlier version of the gas tax bill passed the House on a 207-163 vote March 7 that fell mostly along party lines, with 15 Republicans in support and 10 Democrats opposed.

It then went to the Ways and Means Committee for a second look and now heads to the House floor for a final vote that could come next week.

Minority Leader Gene Chandler, a Bartlett Republican, yesterday called it “the wrong bill at the wrong time.” And Rep. Jack Flanagan, a Brookline Republican, said Democrats are likely to attract little GOP support for it, even with the reduced increase.

“I just think that you’re asking for too much, and it’s really going to go down to become a partisan bill, not a bipartisan bill,” Flanagan said.

Rep. Patrick Abrami, a Stratham Republican, said yesterday he could support a smaller increase in the gas tax. But he said the proposed hike is just too much, even spread over several years.

“Should we increase the road toll a little bit? Yeah, probably,” Abrami said. “But not 12 cents.”

If the bill passes the Democratic-controlled House a second time, it will head to the Senate, where Republicans hold a 13-11 majority. Salem Republican Sen. Chuck Morse, chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, has described it as “dead on arrival” there.

In addition to the bottom-line figure, the Ways and Means Committee made several other tweaks yesterday to the gas tax legislation.

The panel amended the bill to direct all revenue from the increase in the tax to road and bridge projects. Some money from the current 18 cents will continue to flow to other state agencies, such as the Department of Safety and the Fish and Game Department.

And the panel added language creating a special commission to study “alternatives to the gas tax, through user taxes or fees, for funding improvements to the state’s highways and bridges, ensuring that all motor vehicles contribute their fair share.”

Rep. Susan Almy, a Lebanon Democrat and the panel’s chairwoman, said the study is needed due to growing use of fuel efficient vehicles, including hybrids and electric cars.



(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)




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