Stakes raised for truckers in New Hampshire fuel tax increase debate

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Thursday, February 20, 2014

A New Hampshire state lawmaker who is pushing a fuel tax increase has raised the stakes for truckers.

Senate Transportation Chairman Jim Rausch, R-Derry, introduced a bill to increase the state’s 18-cent-per-gallon fuel tax rate for the first time since 1991. Specifically, SB367 would increase the tax by 4 cents to 22 cents per gallon.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee heard testimony Tuesday, Feb. 18, on the bill that would raise $28 million for transportation work in the first year. In addition, it would tie future tax increases to the rate to inflation.

During more than three hours of discussion on the bill, multiple groups let it be known they don’t want a higher tax added to fuel.

Bob Sculley, president of the New Hampshire Motor Transport Association, told the committee that indexing the tax to inflation “is not desirable at all by the group that I run.”

Instead, Sculley encouraged lawmakers to better prioritize existing revenues.

He also questioned how much of the new revenue from a 4-cent increase would actually be applied for roads and bridges.

Rausch isn’t happy about the opposition to his bill. He referred to a 2005 rule change that increased the weight trucks can carry from 80,000 pounds to 104,000 pounds.

“That added weight is helping to destroy our roads, and what do we hear from them? We don’t want to help you,” Rausch told committee members.

Rausch said if the bill isn’t signed into law he will pursue a repeal of laws that benefit the trucking industry, such as the heavy truck allowance.

“We’ll bring the weight down to 80,000 pounds and we will at least save the road for grandma and grandpa so they don’t hit the pothole from the truck that broke the pavement.”

He also suggested looking into prohibiting heavier loads now allowed on Highway 295.

“All those trucks at 100,000 pounds on 295: It’s illegal under federal law. They’re only allowed to be 80,000 pounds. Maybe we should be looking at that.”

Starting in the summer of 2018, the tax rate would change with inflation every four years.

Sculley responded to criticism of his opposition to increasing the tax rate.

“I know there are some people who think we’re being totally unreasonable not supporting this bill, but fuel is our second-highest line item for cost,” Sculley said. “It’s very problematic for us.”

The Senate Ways and Means Committee will make a decision on the bill March 4. If approved, it would move to the full Senate before it could advance to the House. Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, has said she would sign the bill into law.

During her State of the State speech last month she said 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.”

Rausch acknowledged that the tax increase wouldn’t plug the state’s transportation sizable funding gap.

“It’s a small finger in a big hole,” he said.

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