CONCORD – Gov. Maggie Hassan Wednesday praised House passage of a 4.2 percent increase in the state’s gas tax and said she looks forward to signing it into law.
The House’s 193-141 vote in favor of raising the tax followed the Senate’s 15-9 approval last month.
It will mark the first time since 1991 that the tax, currently 18 cents-a-gallon, will be increased. The hike will generate an estimated $32 million a year for 20 years, all of which will be used for road and bridge maintenance and improvement, including payment of bonds to fund completion of the Salem to Manchester Interstate 93 widening project. Proponents, including the state Department of Transportation, say the funding is vitally needed.
The bill also eliminates the toll booths at Exit 12 of the F.E. Everett Turnpike in Merrimack.
Hassan said, “I look forward to signing this bipartisan legislation into law so we can keep New Hampshire’s economy moving forward by advancing critical road and bridge projects and finishing the long-overdue expansion of I-93.
“A solid, modern transportation infrastructure is the foundation for long-term economic growth, critical to the success of New Hampshire’s people and businesses,” the governor said. “Today’s bipartisan vote to strengthen infrastructure investment reinforces that there is broad agreement about the need to take action, and I applaud the House of Representative for taking action to improve our roads and bridges.
She thanked chief sponsor Sen. Jim Rausch, R-Derry, and business groups that backed the hike.
But GOP candidate for governor Walt Havenstein called for a veto, saying, “At a time of economic recovery, it would be a mistake to raise the gas tax.
“The gas tax is a tax on getting to work, it’s a tax on getting your kids to school, and it’s a tax on doing business. The people that this tax will hurt the most are the people who can afford it the least. It is a regressive tax on working class New Hampshire families.”
He said that while the state’s roads and bridges need to be fixed, he would “apply my 30 years of experienced leadership to finding ways to better use existing resources.”
Although there was no official statement from the House Democratic Leadership office, House Speaker Terie Norelli posted on Twitter, “Great for NH infrastructure, for municipalities, for businesses, for jobs.”
House Republican Leader Gene Chandler warned, “Whether or not you support the concept of a gas tax increase, there are many problems with SB367. With all due respect to the bill and its supporters, before jumping into one of the largest tax increases in recent history, we should have taken a more detailed look at the system by which the revenue would be used, and reform that system before pumping any more money into it.
“In the last 2 budgets alone, $38 million has been diverted from the highway fund in excess of the allowable amount in (state law),” Chandler said. “SB367 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 SB367 won’t be disregarded or suspended for future budget years?”
Matthew Murphy, executive director of the conservative advocacy group Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire, said, “The last thing New Hampshire families need right now is to have more money taken out of their wallets and pocketbooks. Our legislators in Concord have a responsibility to explore all options before considering a tax increase on their constituents.”
Americans for Prosperity-New Hampshire state director Greg Moore said the increase will “hammer the working families of New Hampshire.”