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home : news : regional August 20, 2014

New Hampshire House ups gas, diesel tax by 4 cents

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- New Hampshire's House voted Wednesday to raise the tax on gasoline and diesel by 4 cents per gallon -- the first increase since 1991.

The 193-141 vote sent the bill to Gov. Maggie Hassan, who said she will sign it. The tax increase would take effect July 1. New Hampshire's 18-cent tax is the lowest in New England and would remain the lowest if it is increased 4 cents.

"A solid, modern transportation infrastructure is the foundation for long-term economic growth, critical to the success of New Hampshire's people and businesses," Hassan said in a news release.

Supporters say the increase would provide much-needed money to fix deteriorating roads and help finish the expansion of Interstate 93. They successfully defeated a series of attempts to amend the bill, saying they would be unacceptable to the Senate. One amendment would have attached a bill to decriminalize up to one ounce of marijuana; the Senate refused to consider it, having killed a similar one last year.

"We deserve the opportunity to be heard," said amendment sponsor Rep. Adam Schroadter, R-Newmarket.

"This bill is about potholes, not pot," responded Public Works and Highways Chairman David Campbell, D-Nashua.

Opponents said the hike will hurt consumers at the pump and result in higher prices on goods delivered by truck.

House Republican Leader Gene Chandler of Bartlett said lawmakers first should increase highway funds going to the Department of Transportation that are diverted to other agencies. The Department of Safety uses about one-quarter of the highway fund to support its budget. The department says the constitution allows using highway funds to maintain public safety on the roads, but some Republicans believe non-highway tax sources should be used instead.

The bill increases funding for highway improvements for two years, then earmarks about half the proceeds to pay off $200 million in borrowing to finish the Interstate 93 expansion.

Once the debt is paid off in roughly 20 years, the tax increase would expire. The bill also would eliminate the Exit 12 ramp toll booths in Merrimack.

The bill is one of two measures aimed at making needed highway improvements. The House passed a 10-year highway plan that outlines a way to help pay the remaining $50 million needed to finish the I-93 expansion and proposes borrowing money to replace the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge between Portsmouth and Kittery, Maine.

The bridge includes a rail connection to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard that is used to carry nuclear waste. Lawmakers believe the bridge's replacement would give the two states more leverage should another round of base closings include the shipyard as a potential candidate for closure.

The tax bill is a compromise between the two chambers over highway funding. Last year, the Senate killed a House gas tax proposal and the House rejected a Senate casino bill that earmarked some profits for highway improvements.

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