UPDATED: Gas tax passes House, goes to governor for her signature
CONCORD— Motorists will pay an additional 4.2 cents in gas and diesel tax beginning July 1.
The House approved the increase Wednesday on a 193-141 vote and sent it to Gov. Maggie Hassan, who said she would sign it.
"I look forward to signing this bipartisan legislation into law so we can keep New Hampshire's economy moving forward by advancing critical road and bridge projects and finishing the long overdue expansion of I-93," Hassan said.
The gas and diesel tax was last increased in 1991.
"It is time to fix our roads and bridges," House Public Works and Highways Committee Chairman Rep. David Campbell, D-Nashua, said. "If not 4.2 cents, what amount? If not today, when?"
But opponents said there would be no need to increase the gas tax if the money earmarked for the highway fund went to roads and bridges instead of being diverted to the departments of safety and justice.
"In the last two budgets alone, $38 million has been diverted from the highway fund in excess of the allowable amount in RSA 9:9-b," House Minority Leader Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, said. "SB367 may state that the new revenue can only be used for specific purposes, but if the Legislature can't even follow a reasonable standing law regarding highway funds, how can we say that the provision in SB 367 won't be disregarded or suspended for future budget years?"
Merrimack tolls to stay
The most controversial aspect of the bill in the House was the provision eliminating the Exit 12 ramp toll on the F.E. Everett Turnpike, a pet project of former state Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, that was added in the Senate.
Some Republicans first tried to eliminate the Exit 11 toll ramp and then all three Merrimack tolls, but were unsuccessful.
Pot amendment nixed
Rep. Adam Schroadter, R-Newmarket, tried to add to the gas bill House Bill 1625, which would make the penalty for possessing an ounce or less of marijuana the same as a traffic ticket. Schroadter was the prime sponsor of HB 1625.
Last week, the Senate refused to accept the bill, saying it was too similar to a bill senators had rejected last session.
Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester, said adding the decriminalization bill, which the House passed by a greater than two-to-one majority, would "add a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down" to the gas tax increase.
Campbell urged the House to defeat the amendment, saying it was the wrong time and place.
"With all due respect," he said, "this bill is about potholes, not about pot."
The House voted 260-73 to kill the amendment.
22.2 cents a gallon
Senate Bill 367 raises the tax from 18 to 22.2 cents per gallon and will produce an estimated $32 million a year in additional revenue or about $588 million over the next 20 years.
The Interstate 93 expansion from Salem to Manchester will consume a little less than half of the additional revenue. 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 bill, the state would issue $200 million in bonds, and once the bonds are paid, the gas tax increase would be eliminated.