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NHDOT chief warns of cuts, says gas tax needed



CONCORD — Transportation Commissioner Chris Clement commended DOT workers as a snowstorm raged outside the hearing room in Concord on Tuesday, but warned lawmakers that he could have to lay off 700 of those workers if the Legislature fails to approve an increase in the state's gasoline tax or a new casino.

As several one-time sources of revenue for the state's highway fund evaporate, Clement told members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee that his agency is facing shortfalls of $48 million and $105 million over the next two budget cycles if the Legislature does nothing to increase DOT funding.

"We need help," he said.

Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Odell, R-Lempster, tried to keep the conversation focused on a proposal by fellow committee member Sen. James Rausch, R-Derry, to increase the state's 18-cent gas tax by 4.2 cents a gallon, but the conversation kept turning to gaming as an alternate revenue source.

"We need both," said Clement, warning of continued deterioration of the state's roads and bridges, failure to widen I-93, and a budget shortfall that could cost him almost half of the 1,600 employees who work for his department

Cost of gas tax

Opponents of Rausch's bill, SB 367, warned that it would do serious harm to the state's transportation and forestry industries, with cost being passed along to consumers.

"Those sponsoring the bill say it will only increase the cost $16 per passenger vehicle per year, based on 25 miles per gallon, traveling 10,000 miles per year," said tree farmer Tom Thomson of Orford, honorary chairman of the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity. "What they don't tell you is how this tax will have a devastating impact on the trucking industry."

In written testimony, he accused Clement of politicizing his position: "It appears that Commissioner Clement has decided to become the DOT's top lobbyist, and take his Power Point presentation to every corner of the state, claiming his agency is short of revenue by $70 to $100 million; while threatening to lay off 300 to 700 DOT employees if he does not get additional revenues through an increase in the gas and diesel tax."

Thomson warned that truckers are running on razor-thin margins and any increase will put some out of business.

"The others will just pass the increase onto the consumers," he said. "Stop and think about it. Everything we consume moves by diesel. Raising the tax makes the price of everything, including food, higher due to any increase in the diesel tax."

Rausch called on the trucking industry to do its share to maintain the roads in a state that has been far more generous to the industry than its neighbors. He pointed out that New Hampshire has a lower gas tax, higher weight limits and lower fines for violations than any of its neighboring states.

"We give them breaks, and what do we get in return?" he asked.

Under Rausch's proposal, the state's gas tax, which has not been increased since 1991, would increase about 4.2 cents a gallon and produce about $30 million in new revenue for transportation projects. A formula using the Consumer Price Index would be reapplied every four years to adjust the gas tax to align with inflation.

Growth in DOT budget

Senate President Chuck Morse, also a committee member, pressed Clement on the growth in his budget in recent years, saying it had gone up 20 percent a year over five years at a rate that simply was "not sustainable."

Clement admitted that DOT spending had gone up more than $100 million since 2007, but said most of that was due to infusions of cash through the federal stimulus program and other one-time events. Even though the DOT spends about $700 million, most of that is pass-through of federal highway funds. The amount of discretionary funds used to finance payroll and other department operations is only about $142 million, Clement said.

He said gas tax revenue has been declining due to the recession and improvements in fuel efficiency, while the state now has 140 red listed bridges, 37 percent of its road are in poor condition, and the expansion of Interstate 93 is underfunded by $250 million.

"We are in the midst of an infrastructure crisis," he said.

Efforts to raise the gas tax, or road toll as it is known, failed in 2009 and again in 2013 largely because of Republican opposition.

This year, Rausch's bill has two Senate Republican co-sponsors, Sen. Nancy Stiles of Hampton and Sen. David Boutin of Hookset, along with House Republican John Cebrowski of Bedford.dsolomon@unionleader.com




Comments


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Doug St Pierre said:

Get Rid of Chris Clement First then go as deep as needed into DOT work force. he has been working with extra 100 Million since 2007 an panned it off that the money is from the feds, Its from me! Mr tax payer. Let the lay offs begin and who has a job left do your job or your next. Being on my payroll Mr tax payer, is not a club or an entitlement its a JOB.
(Report Abuse)

February 19, 2014 3:11 am

Ruth Valliere said:

Cut away, starting with you. Do you people really think that we, the taxpayers, can afford a gas tax increase??? I know just what would happen with the money too. It would go for salaries and anything else the government wanted to spend it on, except the roads and bridges!!!! No to the tax, Yes to cutting spending!!
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February 19, 2014 4:59 am

Louise Bishop said:

No! to increase in gas taxes, we can barely get back and forth to our jobs as it is. Cut out the unnecessary people go back to using inmates for road work like they do down south. Let them earn their keep instead of costing tax payer money to house their bad a--es. cut out the frivolous spending
(Report Abuse)

February 19, 2014 5:52 am

John Whorfin said:

Reality check. DOT is one of the only dept's to reduce in size over the last decade. They have closed highway sheds that plow your roads. Budgets go up because the cost of salt and pavement and concrete increase. Sort of like bread and gas and rent. The staples of life, depending on your diet. BTW-Truckers do far more damage to the road system then they pay.
(Report Abuse)

February 19, 2014 6:06 am

PETER HUDSON said:

Ahhh, the threats keep coming... Cut the spending...
(Report Abuse)

February 19, 2014 7:53 am

beverly White said:

How about firing all the legislators who vote to siphon off highway funds to militarize our state police and pay for other non infrastructure related spending .
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February 19, 2014 8:18 am

KEVIN WATERHOUSE said:

The road toll has not been raised in 22 years. It was 18 cents when gas cost $1.29 and it is still 18 cents after we have asked the Legislature three times for increases. We have run out of temporary fixes and soon we start laying off people that we can't afford to loose. The Department has tightened its belt over the last 10 years and I know we are in crisis.We will not finish the widening of 93 without an increase in revenue and we will not keep our roads plowed and salted as efficiently as we do now.No threats, but we have been warning this was coming for many years.
(Report Abuse)

February 19, 2014 8:27 am

AUDREY RIVERA said:

No to another tax. Work with what you have, like the rest of us working stiffs.
(Report Abuse)

February 19, 2014 8:32 am

Moose Cortez said:

When you are devoid of ideas or are unintelligent then the easiest thing to say is "raise taxes". WELL Mr. Dot, do you know how many people are hurting out here, do you know how many people are living paycheck to paycheck. Do you know how many of us use our vehicles to make money and to ask us to spend more just takes food out of my children's mouth. Here is what I can do for you!!.. Stop all pensions for all public employees, including you, stop all healthcare, you seem like a democrat so you'll love the connector.. Stop paying public employees the same or more than the private sector, if they want caddilac benefits then they should work for less. Once you lower the cost of employing all you overpaid hacks you won't need more of my money.. STOP.. YOU HAVE ENOUGH MONEY.. NO MORE!!!
(Report Abuse)

February 19, 2014 9:09 am

Moose Cortez said:

Kevin, nobody is buying the crap that you are selling. Look at the lunacy of what you just said.. So according to you, since we are paying now 2.00 a gallon more, we should be able to afford 2.20 a gallon now.. STUPID. So don't finish 93, stop it right in it's tracks. Have all the trucks go home and when we have the money we'll finish. See, it's time for government to do what we do at home when we have no money. Don't take out a credit card, just wait until you have the money...... Whoaaaaaa.. That's a new idea huh? Stupid liberals..
(Report Abuse)

February 19, 2014 9:15 am

SANDRA PICARD said:

It's time for a new DOT commissioner. Obviously he is incompetent at managing anything as complex as DOT. A 20% increase per year using my tax money that he somehow thinks he's entitled to get and entitled to keep even when it goes away? If one time funds were used to increase the staff by 700 people - then those projects must certainly have been completed and its time to get rid of those people.
(Report Abuse)

February 19, 2014 9:32 am

JOHN MCQUAID said:

He got hooked on all that "free" Federal loot so now he preaches to us about gaming and gas taxes. Not the job of the Transportation Commissioner.....
(Report Abuse)

February 19, 2014 10:42 am

NORMAN LEBLOND said:

The usual "sky is falling" routine. Is anyone else tired of this crying wolf routine?
(Report Abuse)

February 19, 2014 10:46 am

FRANCES L H TAYLOR said:

The Legislature needs to increase the gas tax so that residents can be safe on the highways. Our roads north of Concord are a mess. Truckers are down to 25 mph on many of them. UPS has figured out a way to stay off them altogether. Calling for Commissioner Clement's dismissal won't change a thing. Time to increase the gas tax and start fixing the state highways before they turn back to dirt!
(Report Abuse)

February 19, 2014 10:54 am

Michael Bertoulin said:

Itís time o acknowledge that we are not paying our fair share to maintain and improve our highway system in NH. A gas tax like a toll is a user fee to use the roads and highways. Yes I agree Iíd like it if once a road was built and paid for it lasted forever but it does not. Highways and roadways need maintenance like our own assets like our homes; with painting, new roofs, cutting the grass to pumping the septic tank. Highways need to be repaved every 6-8 years based on usage. Sometimes our roads need to be improved or widened like at our homes when we add an addition or build a room in the basement. Sometimes our roads need to be brought up to current safety standards like upgrading lighting or replacing guardrails, similar to changing our own rusted like fixture at the front door, fixing the door bell or adding new fire alarms and CO detectors. These actions cost money and construction materials and labor increase every year with inflation, just like everything else.So if we had a good budget for transportation infrastructure all weíd have to do is keep up with inflation. Well we have an underfunded budget and its barely keeping up with inflation at the underfunded level. Iíve heard and read a number of anecdotal comments that 20-30 years ago our roads were better. Letís for the sake of argument say that was true, but do you realize that the last time the state and federal gas taxes were raised was 20-30 years ago. We have been locked in to an old income stream all this time; but costs continue to rise with inflation and fuel economy has also increased dramatically over the same time frame reducing the purchasing capacity of the old gas tax revenue stream on two fronts.Itís time to adequately fund our aging transportation infrastructure to deal with todayís; major project needs, maintenance needs and repaving needs and then we should index the user fee (tax) to inflation so that we continue adequately fund our transportation infrastructure in order to adequately and safely transport our residents, tourists, goods and services.
(Report Abuse)

February 19, 2014 10:58 am

Henry Molyneux said:

The Democrats answer for everything....raise taxes and fees....Does it ever end....it will....and very badly I'm afraid....
(Report Abuse)

February 19, 2014 12:10 pm

Henry Molyneux said:

Michael, do you own a home and if so what is your property tax?
(Report Abuse)

February 19, 2014 12:12 pm

RUDY CARTIER JR said:

Let's also consider this: There has been no increase in 15 or 20 years. The proposal is for 4 cents. This is a 1% increase of the current average price for fuel. Average that over the time since the last increase and it is a very small number. For those of us who use the roads for business and/or pleasure, this small increase would be a god-send for us to be able to travel the roads of NH in some semblance of smoothness and safety.I do agree, however, that none of this increase should be used for anything but maintenance. Too much money is being siphoned off by agencies such as Safety and Environmental Services. These very important agencies should be properly funded through other means rather than highway funds.
(Report Abuse)

February 19, 2014 1:01 pm

SANDRA PICARD said:

NO, first, it's time for a detailed accounting of where each and every penny of our fuel taxes have gone in the past 20 years. Then and only then can anybody make an intelligent decision about IF we need to raise the fuel tax. IT's funny how they never telll you how much they have done with what they have; only what they need to make "it" better.
(Report Abuse)

February 19, 2014 1:04 pm

Henry Molyneux said:

I also wish to request a full and total disclosure regarding how much of our property taxes, gas taxes and fees are being diverted off into public employee pensions, free health care in early retirement, bloated government and the like.He is a simple truth....whether you want to hear it or not. Government is eating up more and more of the taxpayers paychecks. The taxpayers paychecks ARE NOT keeping up with Government spending. If the trend continues unabated, as it has for over 25 years, on paper Government could expand beyond the Taxpayers entire take home pay.I also wish to request those calling for higher fees and taxes to disclose if they own homes or not and to also state if they are transplants from other states.Thanks
(Report Abuse)

February 19, 2014 1:58 pm

Michael Bertoulin said:

Henry,I've owned a home in NH for 30 years and I maintain modernize my investment as my needs change. There are no free rides upkeep is required
(Report Abuse)

February 19, 2014 2:54 pm

James Dorr said:

Can someone tell me what this Clement character makes a year? Because I'm sure that if he made what a lot of folks in this state make he would not be singing this tune. If the state needed more money, there are plenty of ways to raise that revenue. First, how about a toll plaza in Salem? There are potential revenue streams that we can use, how about legalizing and taxing marijuana. We certainly don't have an issue selling booze on the highways. My point is there are plenty of ways to raise money, such as not raiding the DOT funds for other areas. New Hampshire is going down the wrong path with people like this dolt at the helm.
(Report Abuse)

February 19, 2014 8:29 pm

MICHAEL KING said:

I guess we need to know are we selling more gas in the state than 10 or 20 years ago? Sure seems like a lot of cars. But they are getting better gas mileage. Trouble is w/the libs causing more and more regs to get oil and energy out of the ground it is causing regular folks to go broke. Drop that gas price per gallon to about $1.70 then we'll talk about a tax increase.
(Report Abuse)

February 19, 2014 9:08 pm

RUDY CARTIER JR said:

Hi Henry. born and raised in New Hampshire and have owned a home for over 30 years (also have driven for more than that and gladly paid the fuel tax to keep our roads in good shape).Hi Michael, great idea! Problem is that the oil companies dictate the price. Let's get disclosure from them on salaries and how much they pocket in profits.
(Report Abuse)

February 20, 2014 12:43 pm

Michael Bertoulin said:

Rudy,Your point on the oil companies is irrelevant. The gas tax is a straight tax per gallon not percentage tax like a sales tax. Regardless of the price of gas at the pump without tax, the tax is only a straight add in cents per gallon. In the SB 367 it would add 4.2 cents per gallon to the current 18 cents per gallon tax we've had since the early 90's.I think we can both agree that 18 cents in the early 90's has a much reduced purchasing power today.
(Report Abuse)

February 20, 2014 4:11 pm

Jason Stevens said:

Does everything have to be about always giving the Dept. Of Safety and State Police more money? It just seems to me we have enough troopers retiring with 100K pensions after 20 years. If we pass a gas tax to fix the roads for Dot...Why cant we simply allocate 100% of the funds be dedicated for that purpose?
(Report Abuse)

February 20, 2014 7:40 pm

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