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N.H. Senate Considers Bill Increasing Gas Tax

Concord — Repairing New Hampshire’s deteriorating roads and bridges must be a priority for lawmakers, according to testimony at a Senate hearing yesterday, but opinions were split over where the money should come from: higher taxes at the pump or proceeds from a long-debated casino.

A proposal before the Senate Ways and Means Committee would raise the state’s gas and diesel tax 12 cents per gallon over several years but opponents of the idea were keen to back an alternative — legalizing a casino.

Tax hike opponents argue that increasing the gas and diesel tax — collectively known as the road toll, which hasn’t been raised in 22 years — would hurt the trucking industry and pass costs to consumers. But they said a Senate-passed casino proposal directing a portion of state gambling revenue to transportation projects provides a nontax alternative.

Many who favor increasing the road toll also said they support expanded gambling in the state, but they don’t want to rely on a casino, that has yet to be approved, to cover the state’s transportation needs.

“I want to see a casino right on (Interstate) 93, but that’s not where we are today,” said Kevin Waterhouse, R-Windham, who serves on the House Public Works and Highways committee. “We need to make sure there will be funding no matter what happens in the house on (the casino bill).”

The Senate passed a casino legalization bill last month, but the House has consistently rejected such proposal over the years.

Supporters say the extra road toll money would go to the state’s highway fund, with 12 percent dedicated for municipal aid. The state has more than 1,600 miles of road rated in poor condition, and close to 500 state and municipal bridges it deems structurally deficient and in need of repairs or replacement to continue operating.

According to figures presented by the bill’s House sponsor, David Campbell, D-Nashua, the increase would generate close to $634 million over the next 10 years for the highway fund and increase state aid to municipalities for transportation projects by 51 percent.

More money for municipalities is hugely important, said Henry Spencer, a selectman from Effingham.