New Hampshire lawmakers offer multiple options for road, bridge funds

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Friday, February 07, 2014

On the heels of a failed effort to increase New Hampshire’s fuel tax rate, multiple options to raise new revenue for road and bridge work are drawing attention at the statehouse.

In 2013, the state’s Democratic-led House voted to increase the diesel and gas tax rate by 12 cents per gallon over multiple years. However, Senate Republicans blocked a vote on the increase.

A possible change in attitude spurred one leading Senate Republican to revisit the issue to address a backlog of road maintenance needs totaling $1.3 billion over the past decade.

Sponsored by Senate Transportation Chairman Jim Rausch, R-Derry, the bill would increase the state’s 18-cent-per-gallon fuel tax rate for the first time since 1992. Specifically, SB367 would increase the tax by 4 cents to 22 cents per gallon.

The rate increase would raise $28 million for transportation work in the first year.

Starting in the summer of 2018, the tax rate would change with inflation every four years. All revenue would be earmarked for transportation.

Supporters say Rausch’s bill is a reasonable attempt to deal with challenges the state faces with upkeep of roads and bridges.

Gov. Maggie Hassan said Thursday, Feb. 6, during her State of the State speech that transportation funding needs attention.

“Keeping New Hampshire’s economy moving forward will require us to work through a pressing challenge that has been neglected for far too long: our aging transportation infrastructure.”

Rep. Candace Bouchard, D-Concord, is behind another bill that would extend collection of the state’s fuel tax to vehicles that use alternative fuels. Under HB1142, the tax would mostly apply to commercial and government fleets making the switch to natural gas and propane.

A separate bill would look for other ways to raise money for road and bridge work. HB1202 would set up a commission to study revenue alternatives to the fuel tax.

Another bill, HB1346, would require that all revenue designated to the highway fund be used for construction and maintenance of highways.

House lawmakers already approved one bridge funding bill. HB684 would use local funds to replace or rehabilitate bridges. State aid funds would later be used to reimburse municipalities.

New Hampshire law now reimburses local governments at 80 percent of the cost.

Supporters say the change would benefit communities and the state because work can be performed at a lower cost and bridge work can be completed quicker.

The bill now moves to the Senate for further consideration.

One more bill, HB1123, would permit village districts to receive federal and state highway aid. Currently, road funds are off limits for the districts.

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