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April 08. 2014 1:08PM

Business groups tell lawmakers they support gas tax hike

CONCORD  — Business groups, construction organizations and the NH Municipal Association turned out to support a bill that would increase the state gas tax from 18 to 22.2 cents beginning July 1.
 
Senate Bill 367 would produce about $588 million over the next 20 years dedicated to highway and bridge construction and maintenance, and to complete the Interstate 93 expansion from Salem to Manchester.
 
“This 4.2 cents is not enough to do it all,” said Larry Major of Pike Industries, “but it’s a start.”
 
However, several conservative advocacy groups, the state trucking industry and several citizens opposed the bill, saying it will drive up the cost of goods and make gas more expensive for those who can least afford it.
 
“The last thing Granite Staters need is to pay higher taxes when other financial burdens are increasing,” said Matt Murphy of Citizens for a Strong NH, “particularly health care and property taxes.”
 
Other opponents said the increase is not necessary if the state followed current statutes that limit the diversion of money away from fixing and building roads and bridges.
 
“There is nothing to curb the excesses of using the highway fund as a slush fund for another agency,” said Greg Moore, state director of Americans For Prosperity.
 
But the bill’s sponsor Sen. Jim Rausch, R-Derry, said the bill begins to address the state’s deteriorating highway system.
 
“I believe strongly we are sent here to solve problems,” Rausch said, “and that is what this is.”
 
Under the proposal, the increase would be repealed after $200 million in bonds are paid off over 16 to 20 years.
 
The agreement allows the state to secure about $80 million in Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle bonds or GARVEE bonds to replace the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge in Portsmouth, and use $40 million in federal funds earmarked for that project to help pay for the I-93 expansion.
 
The agreement would also eliminate the Exit 12 tolls on the F.E. Everett Turnpike in Merrimack.
 
Under the plan, $8 million would go back to cities and towns as highway block grants over the next two years, $20 million would go for highway rehabilitation, $26 million for resurfacing, and nearly $30 million over the next four years to fix red listed bridges.
 
Under the proposal, a study committee would review the efficiency and effectiveness of the NH Department of Transportation.
 
Rausch vowed to do something to raise money for the state’s highway system last session after the Senate resoundingly killed a 12-cent gas tax increase the House had passed.
 
“There are compromises in here to get down the road you want to go,” Rausch said Tuesday, and warned that changing the bill may doom it in the Senate.
 
He said the average person driving about 10,000 miles a year in a vehicle that gets 25 miles-a-gallon would pay about $16 a year.
 
But Murphy disputed those figures, saying people drive many more miles than that and the cost to commercial fleets would be staggering.
 
Sam Langley of Boscawin questioned the need for expanding I-93 to four lanes and suggested the state charge vehicles that cause more damage to highways more in gas tax. “I could support a gas tax increase for maintaining the present highway system,” he said.
 
The NH Transport Association estimates the average independent truck driver in the state would pay about $760 a year.
 
“Just about everything in the state is delivered by truck,” said the association’s president, Robert Sculley, “so it’s all going up.”
 
He indicated he expects the House to approve the bill as well.
 
Gov. Maggie Hassan has said if lawmakers agree on the gas tax increase she would sign the bill.
 
At the public hearing, the bill was supported by the Business and Industry Association, the Restaurant and Lodging Association, the Associated General Contractors of NH, and the Municipal Association.
 
The bill had a public hearing before a joint hearing of the House Public Works and Highways, and Ways and Means committees Tuesday.
 
The joint committees are expected to vote on the bill next Tuesday.
 
grayno@unionleader.com

Senate Bill 367 would produce about $588 million over the next 20 years dedicated to highway and bridge construction and maintenance and allow the completion of the Interstate 93 expansion from Salem to Manchester.

“This 4.2 cents is not enough to do it all,” said Larry Major of Pike Industries, “but it’s a start.”

However, several conservative advocacy groups, the state trucking industry and several citizens opposed the bill, saying it will drive up the cost of goods.

“The last thing Granite Staters need is to pay higher taxes when other financial burdens are increasing,” said Matt Murphy of Citizens for a Strong NH, “particularly health care and property taxes.”

The bill had a public hearing before a joint hearing of the House Public Works and Highways, and Ways and Means committees Tuesday.

The joint committees are expected to vote on the bill next Tuesday.


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