Letter: Rationale for Gas Tax Increase

To the Editor:

HB 617 has passed the New Hampshire House and is now headed for the Senate. This bill proposes an incremental increase in the road toll of 4 cents per year over three years, for a total of 12 cents. It raises the cost of diesel by 2 cents a year, and spreads this increase out over six years. The road toll (gas tax) was last increased in 1991; our current road toll of 18 cents is the lowest in the Northeast, and it will remain the lowest in the region even if increased by 12 cents.

The Public Works and Highways Committee, on which I serve, worked to minimize the impact on drivers. Before the bill even went to the House floor, an increase of $5 per year in the vehicle registration fee was deleted. Next, the total increase was reduced from 15 to 12 cents by the Ways and Means Committee. Finally, the bill provides that all money (including unrefunded road toll revenue) go to a separate protected fund within the already constitutionally protected Highway Fund.

The committee heard hours of testimony and read scores of letters from businesses and residents that convinced us that more revenue is needed to repair our 1,661 miles of roads in poor condition and 140 red-listed bridges. This information hits close to home. A drive down 12A demonstrates how improved traffic flow benefits local businesses. If HB 617 passes the Senate, my own town of Enfield will receive an additional $250,0000 in municipal block grant aid over the next 10 years.

I’m often asked when the state will be able to provide more money to help with roads. The passage of HB 617 is a legislative effort to prevent the downshifting of costs to local taxpayers. It’s not a broad-based tax; it’s a user fee, based on the New Hampshire tradition of cost for benefits received. It will cost the average driver who drives 12,000 miles a year, and averages 22 miles a gallon, roughly $5 a month. As the only revenue option available at this time, committee members believed it was worth our unanimous bipartisan support.

Wendy Piper

Democrat, New Hampshire House