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N.H. Senate Panel Favors 4-Cent Rise In Gas Tax

Concord — When a bill to increase the gas tax comes to the Senate floor later this month, lawmakers will only be asked to swallow a one-time, 4-cent increase, which is significantly less than the original bill proposed.

Sen. Jim Rausch, a R-Derry, amended his bill Tuesday to take out future increases tied to the Consumer Price Index planned for every four years after critics said it would remove the public’s voice from future tax hikes.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee voted, 4-1, to support the bill, with Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, casting the sole no vote.

Among Upper Valley lawmakers, state Sens. Bob Odell, R-New London, and David Pierce, D-Lebanon, voted for the gas tax increase. State Sen. Jeanie Forrester, R-Meredith, was opposed.

The 4-cent increase, which would take effect this year, is projected to bring in $32 million, which the Department of Transportation would attempt to earmark for roads and bridges.

The bill doesn’t dictate what projects the money would go toward, but Rausch said the department wants to use $12 million to reconstruct state roads in very poor condition, $13 million for pavement reconstruction of fair to poor roads and $7 million for bridges, which would accelerate about nine projects.

“You drive down our roads, this winter has been brutal,” Rausch said. “At this point, I think the 4 cents will be used wisely to help our road conditions.” Rausch said the hike is a “user fee” rather than a tax, because the amount of miles people drive would determine how much the increase affects them.

To Morse, that difference in words is meaningless. “The citizens of New Hampshire will end up paying it,” he said.

Before voting against the amended bill, Morse said the transportation department’s budget has been adequately increased and that not every department can have all of the money it wants.

He also expressed skepticism that all the money would go toward roads and bridges because that is not written into the bill.

“If we’ve underfunded those budgets for every year that I’ve been here, shame on us,” Morse said. “That’s what’s being said out there — that we haven’t done our jobs. I don’t believe that.”