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Op/Ed: Opposing Increase in Road Toll is Hard Road to Travel for NH Legislators

The Importance of HB 617 to New Hampshire.

An Op Ed Submission 

by Todd I. Selig

3/21/13

After lengthy debate on March 6th, the NH House passed HB 617, a bill that increases the road toll, commonly referred to by opponents as the “Gas Tax,” by 4 cents per gallon of gasoline in each of the next three years (fiscal years 2014 – 2016) and then 3 cents in fiscal year 2017, for a total 15-cent increase over the current road toll of 18 cents per gallon.  It is referred to as the 4-4-4-3 plan with Rep. David Campbell of Nashua as the prime sponsor.

This additional revenue would be placed in a separate fund within the constitutionally protected highway fund to be used exclusively for the construction, reconstruction, and maintenance of state and municipal roads and bridges – investment that will equate to good jobs across New Hampshire, particularly within the construction, engineering, paving, and aggregate industries.

Projections show the modest change in the road toll would result in increased highway block grant funding for municipalities of $3.6 million in 2014 to over $13 million in 2017 and beyond, for a total increase of $117 million over the next ten years. For communities working diligently to stabilize local tax rates across the granite state, this increase is significant.  To put it into concrete terms, the 4-4-4-3 plan would mean an additional $250,962 for Bath; $2,982,522 for Concord; $949,347 for Durham; $980,731 for Exeter; $573,305 for Henniker; $1,656,408 for Keene; $1,140,890 for Laconia; $6,851,848 for Manchester; $5,364,972 for Nashua; $2,079,901 for Rochester; $2,195,307 for Salem; and $112,771 for Woodstock.  Local taxpayers in every town and city across NH benefit from the 4-4-4-3 plan.

But much needed additional revenue for municipalities targeted to roadway repairs is not all that this bill provides. The increase would also fund an additional $8.5 million per year for municipal bridge and highway aid programs, fully fund the I-93 widening project, fully fund the state’s grossly underfunded ten year transportation plan, and provide resources to address the 1600+ miles of state roads currently rated in “poor” condition.

The road toll is a true user fee that has not been increased in over 20 years.  If the citizens of New Hampshire want decent roads, someone will have to pay for them, and it is only appropriate that the cost be borne by the users.  Those who drive less would pay less; those who drive more would pay more.

The House Ways and Means Committee voted on March 20th to recommend reducing the road toll increases from four cents/four cents/four cents/three cents over the next four years, to simply four/four/four.  This is a mistake.  Full implementation of the 4-4-4-3 plan is reasonable and necessary to meet the state’s transportation needs. Here is why.

At 18 cents per gallon, New Hampshire’s road toll is currently the lowest in New England.   

An important aspect of the road toll is that it does not translate penny for penny at the pump.  Drive into Maine with a higher gas tax than NH and you can find lower gas prices there.  This is because supply and demand is the primary driver of gas prices, not the road toll.  When the average driver drives 12,000 miles per year, getting an average of 22.6 mpg, it will cost an additional $79.65 per year after the 15 cents increase is fully implemented.  This cost is based on the assumption that the 15 cent increase passes through penny for penny at the pump, which is unlikely.   

Even assuming that every penny is passed onto the driver at the pump, the cost of $79.65 is less than what the average NH driver is currently spending on vehicle maintenance and repairs due to poor NH road conditions ($323/year), as reported by TRIP, a national transportation group. And in some areas of the state it is worse.  The average driver in the Southern New Hampshire area, including Manchester and Nashua, loses $503 annually due to driving on deteriorated roads, while rough roads cost the average Dover-Rochester-Portsmouth driver $400 annually.

New Hampshire faces an annual transportation funding shortfall of $74 million, more than one third of the state’s major roads are deteriorated, nearly a third of Granite State bridges are in need of repair or replacement, and the state’s rural traffic fatality rate is disproportionately higher than that of other roads in the state.  Unless NH can increase transportation investment, conditions are projected to worsen significantly in the future.  This serves none of us well and works against the NH advantage.

HB 617, at the 4-4-4-3 level, is a good plan and deserves the support of the NH Legislature.  Opposing it is a hard road to travel for our representatives and senators in Concord.

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Information about Todd I. Selig:  Todd Selig has served as Durham Town Manager since 2001.  After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Syracuse University, Mr. Selig went on to complete a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of New Hampshire.  He has served in a variety of New Hampshire administrative positions within both the municipal and school sectors including positions in Raymond, Laconia, New Boston, Hopkinton, and now Durham.  In 2003, Todd Selig was awarded the Caroline Gross Fellowship allowing him to attend the Program for Senior Executives in State and Local Government at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.  He was named as one of New Hampshire’s “40 Under Forty” by The Union Leader in 2005.  Mr. Selig has previously served as chairman of the board of directors for the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies and as a trustee and vice-chairman of the board of PRIMEX (N.H. Public Risk Management Exchange).  He is a member of the International City/County Management Association, a member of the Municipal Management Association of NH, a Trustee Emeritus of the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies, and a member of the Durham Historical Society.  

Seamus Carty March 21, 2013 at 11:54 PM
"less than what the average NH driver is currently spending on vehicle maintenance and repairs due to poor NH road conditions ($323/year), as reported by TRIP, a national transportation group." That is a Washington DC based lobbyist group for the construction industry. Take a look at the board of directors: http://www.tripnet.org/board-of-directors.php
JPF36 March 25, 2013 at 09:49 PM
I don't agree with your line of thinking. I drive for a living and I have yet to see any State roadways that are in DESPERATE need for repair. Also with my average of 35,000 miles per year I have never had repairs for "so called poor road conditions". I have been an outside sales rep for over 16 years now.
JPF36 March 25, 2013 at 09:54 PM
Can someone please tell me what the actual TOLLS (tollbooth) money is used for? The last time they raised the rates for actual tolls we the citizens of NH were told that the added monies would be spent on Road and Bridge repairs. So what happened to this Money? It's time for the State Government to be transparent in telling the citizens where all these funds are going. I read recently that several million dollars were taken from the Toll Booth account and used for God knows what. Enough of the smoke and mirrors, after all it is our money ( the taxpayers of NH) that you seem to be misappropriating
News Flash March 25, 2013 at 10:09 PM
Does anybody trust democrats to keep all this money for roads.
JPF36 March 25, 2013 at 10:15 PM
Also why all of sudden is this a HIGH PRIORITY? Governor Lunch wasn't looking for these increases. And how is it that the Interstate 93 widening project wasn't funded completely when the project was started? After all there are Federal monies involved in this and I am sure they require that funding be approved prior to construction. This seems more like a ploy by Maggie Hassan's Admin. to cover the 80 + million of her UNFUNDED BUDGET. Why can't our State live within their means like we the Citizens are forced to do, due to the poor economy. Was it really necessary to give the Tenured Professors within the NH University System such a sizable raise, especially in these trying economic times?? I work for a fortune 100 company and haven't seen an increase in my pay for several years. Had Maggie Hassan been a bit more truthful with her stating that she wanted to return the funding status to the University System that was withheld during Lynch's terms in office. I am sure that most people assumed as I did, that she meant making education more affordable for our College Students. and not bending over (backwards) to the Unions that represent the Professors. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.
JPF36 March 25, 2013 at 10:19 PM
After Maggie "TAX AND SPEND" Hassan lied to us with regards to the funding for the University System and then giving the Tenured Professors sizable raises in these trying economic times. I for one don't trust any of the Democrats that now occupy the State House. SMOKE AN MIRRORS.
Hardy Har Har Har March 25, 2013 at 10:20 PM
The Tax Poem Tax his land, Tax his bed, Tax the table At which he's fed. Tax his tractor, Tax his mule, Teach him taxes Are the rule. Tax his work, Tax his pay, He works for peanuts Anyway! Tax his cow, Tax his goat, Tax his pants, Tax his coat. Tax his ties, Tax his shirt, Tax his work, Tax his dirt. Tax his tobacco, Tax his drink, Tax him if he Tries to think. Tax his cigars, Tax his beers, If he cries Tax his tears. Tax his car, Tax his gas, Find other ways To tax his ---. Tax all he has Then let him know That you won't be done Till he has no dough. When he screams and hollers, Then tax him some more, Tax him till He's good and sore. Then tax his coffin, Tax his grave, Tax the sod in Which he's laid. Put these words Upon his tomb, "Taxes drove me to my doom..." When he's gone, Do not relax, Its time to apply The inheritance tax “Morpheus Titania”

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