May 5 - City to Benefit from Gas Tax Increase

This article appeared in the E-Ticker News May 5, 2014

NH House Happenings

By Rep. John Cloutier

City To Benefit From Gas Tax Increase

More money to fix our stateʼs crumbling roads and deteriorating bridges will soon be available,thanks in part to New Hampshireʼs House of Representatives.

On April 23 the House, by a 193-141 roll call vote, approved an amended version of Senate Bill 367, which would raise additional funds for our ailing infrastructure. Such funds would be raised by hiking New Hampshireʼs road toll, popularly known as the “gas tax” by 4.2 cents per each gallon of gas and diesel sold in the state, starting on July of this year. The road toll is presently set at 18 cents per gallon of the just-mentioned fuels, and hasnʼt been increased since Jan. 1,1992, after the New Hampshire Legislature and then Gov. Judd Gregg had agreed to raise it in 1991. Even with the 4.2 cent per gallon increase at 22.2 cents, our stateʼs road toll or gas tax will still be the lowest in New England.

Approval of Senate Bill 367 as sent over to the House followed a nearly two-hour debate over the measure on the House floor. This debate occurred after a Special House Joint Committee on Senate Bill 367 composed of the House Ways & Means as well as my Public Works & Highways Committees had earlier recommended the billʼs passage without further amendment by a 26-11 roll call vote on April 15.

During the debate several amendments were proposed to modify the legislation as revised by the Senate. But all of the amendments were rejected by decisive votes. Among them was one offered by Newmarket Rep. Adam Schroadter which would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Readers may remember from a previous column that Rep. Schroadter was the prime sponsor of House Bill 1625 that had earlier passed the House in March, and would have decriminalized small amounts of pot possession. But Senate President Chuck Morse subsequently refused to let the Senate even consider the bill because the Senate had rejected a similar decriminalization message last year. But even this amendment was defeated.

Senate Bill 367, which is sponsored by a bipartisan group of legislators led by Derry Sen. James Rausch, a Republican, now proceeds to Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan for her signature. Gov. Hassan has promised to sign the measure into law, and actually praised Sen. Rausch as well as the rest of the legislature for approving the road toll increase in a press release issued shortly after the House vote.

Senate Bill 367 proponents led by Nashua Rep. David Campbell, who is also the Public Works & Highways Committee Chair, declared the legislation would raise an estimated extra $588 million for New Hampshireʼs Highway Fund over the next 20 years. This total figure is according to the State DOT (Department of Transportation). About 33 percent of the total, or $194 million, would be designated for money to fix municipal roads and bridges like Claremontʼs. Next, approximately 25 percent or $149 million would go for additional funds to repair secondary state roads and bridges like Route 12, and the Route 12A Bridge over the Sugar River in Claremont. Finally, about 42 percent or $248 million would be allocated to complete the widening of Interstate 93 in southern New Hampshire. 

Rep. Campbell admitted that a 23 percent in the road toll may seem high at first glance. But since the last 1992 increase, the costs of many materials like cement and steel, used to construct roads and bridges have risen by over 100 percent. Asphalt alone has risen by 460 percent in the past 22 years. Consequently, because of these large price rises, the amount of New Hampshire Highway Funds which could pave nearly three miles of road in 1991, can only pave one mile today. Also the amount of the same funds that could repair three bridges in 1991 can only repair one bridge in 2014.

Finally, he made two other important points. Twenty percent of road toll revenue comes from out-of-state drivers filling up at our gas stations. Second, all drivers would only pay between $8.32 more per year in road toll fees, if they drove between 5,000-20,000 miles per year in vehicles averaging 25 miles per gallon of gas or diesel. These additional fees are in comparison to the figure of $259, the average annual cost per year that drivers must now pay in increased vehicle repairs because of substandard roads and bridges. This figure is according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the New Hampshire Chapter of AAA (American Automobile Association). $

For readersʼ information, I did vote for Senate Bill 367 as sent to the House by the Senate. I voted against all the proposed amendments to the bill, which could have resulted in its ultimate rejection by the Senate in a joint committee of conference or on the Senate floor in my opinion. While the bill is not a perfect measure, it will help to provide more badly-needed money for our stateʼs roads and bridges. This includes more money for Claremontʼs roads and bridges over the next 20 years, including an additional $655,194 in Municipal Block Grant Aid for the cityʼs streets. according to the New Hampshire DOT.

House Speaker Terie Norelli publicly announced on April 21 that she wouldnʼt be seeking re-election as a representative or Speaker this year. Just a few hours before the announcement, Speaker Norelli left a message at my home phone, giving me advance notice of her plans. She extended this courtesy to me because as Vice Chair of the Public Works & Highways Committee, I am part of her leadership team.

Speaker Norelli has been one of the hardest working representatives Iʼve ever known in my House career. She has been very wise, calm, and fair in presiding over the House. A welcome contrast to the stupidity and heavy-handed partisanship, which I had experienced under her predecessor as Speaker last term.