CarriageTowneNews.com, Kingston, NH

March 21, 2013

My Opinion: March 21, 2013

By NH State Representative L. Mike Kappler
Carriage Towne News

---- — RAYMOND - HB-617 - increasing the rate of the road toll and establishing the NH State and Municipal Road and Bridge Account. This bill would jump the current gas tax of 18 cents per gallon, to 33 cents per gallon over a 4-year period, an 83% increase.

New Hampshire’s gas tax and highway funds are very confusing to many people, including some legislators. All the state’s highway work, whether new construction, routine maintenance, or repairs, are paid for only with money generated with user fees. There is only so much revenue, depending on how much comes in for vehicle registrations, tolls, gas taxes, and a few other fees. If we have a bad year for roads, whether from much needed repair work, a lot of snow, or flood damage, that means there’s less funds available for regular projects.

There are two separate funds: (1) Turnpike Fund, gets its money from its tolls, and (2) Highway Fund, which gets all the other fees and the gas taxes. The big problem with this fund is that some money, currently about 30%, is diverted to other non-highway purposes. Former Speaker O’Brien, myself, and a couple other representatives attempted to stop this drainage with an amendment to HB-617, that the Democrats killed on the House floor. We must stop diverting these monies from this fund. Our highway infrastructure condition is worsening, but we won’t solve the problem by increasing the

Tax; it must be solved by honest budget work, not foolish gimmickry.

The idea to limit the use of highway funds to road construction and repairs has been with us for years. A little over 16 years ago, Ovide Lamontagne and Jeanne Shaheen, during a recorded Gubernatorial debate, discussed red-listed roads, and the highway fund, and both supported not diverting any highway funds away from road and bridge construction and repairs. So why do the Democrats now want to spread the money around?

The rest of us however, recognize the enduring truth and practicality in what Sen. Shaheen said in that debate: “I think we’ve got to do a better job in state government with the funds that we have.” I believe in not diverting funds to pay for highway enforcement officers who ought to be paid out of General Fund money, just as Sen. Shaheen then proposed, and we ought to vote to do it.

An amendment to HB 617, to fulfill Sen. Shaheen’s 16-year old proposal, will be presented to the Ways & Means Committee, and, if not adopted by the committee, will then be brought to the House floor for a vote. Please call your Representatives to support this amendment to HB-617.

I believe if we just stop all these money shifting gimmicks, and leave the two funds alone, then, there would be no need for a gas tax increase.

The final House floor vote on HB-617 was RC 207-163, with 27 not voting. With this passage, the bill now goes to the House Ways and Means Committee as a 2nd committee. When they finish working on it, it will come back to the House floor again.

Now is the time for you to call Representatives and tell them to vote to kill this $1B tax increase which will hurt our trucking industry, our state borders’ small convenience store’s gas business, and the poorer people of our state. Please call Representatives now: we need to get this bill killed when it comes back to the House floor.

After debating HB-617 for about 2-1/2 hours, much the same babble, the vote went down party lines. Only 10 Democrats voted against the bill, and only 15 Republicans voted for it.

So how did our Rockingham County Representatives vote? All our Democrats voted yes, supporting the tax increase, except Speaker Norelli and Ward, who didn’t vote. The Speaker normally does not vote except to break a tie. All our Republican voted against the tax increase except for these five: Friel, Khan, Milz, Sytek, and Waterhouse. There were also seven Republicans not voting: Azarian; Introne; Garcia, Bianca; Lundgren; Oligny; Nigrello; and Belanger.

(Editor’s Note: NH State Representative Mike Kappler can be reached at l.mikekappler@comcast.net)