By NH State Representative L. Mike Kappler
Carriage Towne News
---- — RAYMOND - In session on April 23rd, the House voted on SB-367-FN-A which was rushed through the House by the Speaker appointing a special committee “Joint Public Works and Highways and Ways Means”. This is a joint committee of the two House committees so they only had to have one Public Hearing and one Executive Committee meeting to vote it to the floor.
SB-367-FN-A, (new title) requiring adjustment of the road toll according to changes in the Consumer Price Index, eliminating certain ramp tolls on the Everett turnpike in the town of Merrimack, and establishing a committee to study the effectiveness and efficiency of the department of transportation. This bill increases the gas tax by about 4cents per gallon, on gas and diesel fuels, immediately, authorizes automatic further increases, and allocates all increased revenues to the DOT. It specifies how the money is to be used: first, to payoff $200M in new bonds to widen I-93, then road and bridge maintenance, including the 12% share for localities. It eliminates the Exit 12 ramp toll in Merrimack. This will hurt fuel sales in our NH border towns. Increasing diesel will also have an effect on moving of goods, such as food, causing an increase in these products.
The two hour debate went as follows: bill came out of the committee as OTP; then 4 floor amendments were brought forward attempting various changes. All failed
Whether or not you support the concept of a gas tax increase, I thought it would be helpful to clarify some of the misconceptions about SB-367. Before jumping into a major tax increase, we need to take a hard look at the intricacies of this bill and the system by which the revenue would be used. I hope you find these points informative.
Misconception #1: This bill’s sole purpose is to help improve infrastructure. No. This bill removes some tolls in Merrimack, which results in a loss of revenue to the Turnpike Fund. Many people believe toll planning should be solely the responsibility of the 10-year Highway Plan. Trying to attach such legislation to a tax bill is not appropriate. Consideration of the removal of tolls should be part of a broader review of our highway and turnpike systems, its revenue, and how funds are allocated, to avoid any adverse or unintended consequence.
Misconception #2: All of this new tax revenue will be distributed to help fix secondary roads and bridges in NH. No. This bill allocates 42% of revenue to the I-93 widening project. The I-93 widening was already allocated $50 million, a part of the 10-Year Highway Plan, HB-2014, which has already passed the House and is currently in the Senate.
Misconception #3: A large portion of tax revenue will be distributed to cities and towns to immediately help repair municipal roads. No. Municipal block grants will not commence until FY2016 and will be just 12% of the prior years’ revenue. In FY 2016, additional aid to towns and cities resulting from the tax increase will be just $4 million per year statewide. Once divided up, most NH towns will get less than 1% of that amount. The largest cities and towns may get 1%-6%. Towns are not required to spend their block grant on infrastructure repair.
Misconception #4: The new revenue is in a “lock box” and can only be used by DOT for infrastructure improvements. RSA 9:9-b allows the legislature to divert up to 27% of highway fund revenue to other state agencies, above and beyond what those agencies are appropriated through the state budget. The 2012-2013 budget violated RSA 9:9-b by diverting more than the specified amount. The 2014-2015 budget suspended RSA 9:9-b to divert even more than the previous budget. Since RSA 9:9-b took effect in its current form, 2 out of the last 3 of state budgets have gone over the limit. In the last 2 budgets alone, $38 million has been diverted from the highway fund in excess of the allowable amount in RSA 9:9-b. SB-367 may state that the new revenue can only be used for specific purposes, but if the legislature can’t even follow a reasonable standing law regarding highway funds, how can we say that the provision in SB-367 won’t be disregarded or suspended for future budget years?
In closing, let me say, in my 8 years in the House, this was one of the worse bills ever passed, and it was pushed through by the Democrats. Not good for our New Hampshire.
(Editor’s Note: NH State Representative Mike Kappler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)