New Hampshire lawmakers are using up every last second of their allotted time to come up with a state budget.
Legislators are working to resolve differences in House and Senate versions of the roughly $11.5 billion budget. They have until Thursday afternoon to reach agreement on several issues that include expanding gambling and taxing home refinances. One issue that has been resolved is who will foot the bill for road and bridge repairs throughout the state.
Despite talks during the past few months about boosting fuel taxes and toll rates to help plug a $40 million shortfall in the transportation budget, negotiators have tentatively agreed on hiking motor vehicle registration fees.
A conference committee meeting to hash over options to fund transportation agreed to charge between $30 and $75 more in fees based on vehicle weights. Revenue would be directed for state and local roads.
The fee increases are contained in the trailer bill – HB2 – that accompanies the two-year state budget.
Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-Exeter, who unveiled the registration fee increase plan, said the graduated plan was fair because the more wear and tear vehicles put on a road the more they would have to pay, the Concord Monitor reported.
Lawmakers said they chose to include registration surcharges and abandon the pursuit of higher fuel taxes because it was simply the least painful option for taxpayers. Previously, House lawmakers approved a 15-cent-per-gallon fuel tax increase to be phased in over several years, but Gov. John Lynch said he was opposed to that plan.
Without making changes, officials with the New Hampshire Department of Transportation say the agency is on track for a $1 billion shortfall in the state’s 10-year highway plan.
The registration fee increase would sunset in two years. At that time, lawmakers would need to revisit the long-term funding options. Likely topics are expected to include expanding the use of toll money and the fuel tax.
Once negotiators reach agreement on the 2010-2011 state budget, it will be put to a vote by the full House and Senate before it advances to the governor’s desk.
To view other legislative activities of interest for New Hampshire in 2009, click here.
– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor
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