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February 20. 2013 8:08PM

Campbell's tax hike: Mishandling the road toll

Rep. David Campbell, D-Nashua, has proposed a bill that would raise $1 billion over 10 years for the state Department of Transportation by increasing the gas tax and auto registration fees over the next three years. By way of comparison, the entire DOT budget in fiscal year 2012 was $531 million.

Raising the state's gas tax is never popular, which is why New Hampshire's tax is the lowest in New England. It was last increased in June of 1991 - three months before Seattle grunge band Nirvana released its breakthrough album, "Nevermind." Next year Nirvana will be eligible for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

A year ago, state transportation officials told legislators that the 10-year Highway Fund was $1.3 billion short of the money needed to complete every project. Campbell's bill would raise about $1 billion. But is everything in the 10-year plan essential? (It includes a commuter park-and-ride lot, for instance.) And does the bill raise this money in a responsible way?

Such a big economic jolt as Campbell proposes is never good; it is less desirable in a sputtering economy like this one. Campbell might have made more headway had he proposed a very small increase over four years, targeted to essential ?projects. Instead, he went for the whole $1 billion in three years, raising concerns that the money will not be well spent.

A small gas-tax hike might have sailed through the Legislature. Now Campbell faces a fight that might have been avoided with better planning.


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