Earlier this week, the NH Senate passed SB367, a bill that raises the gas tax for the first time in over 20 years. The increase is projected to raise $32 million annually, which would be dedicated to improving the state’s transportation infrastructure.
This bill jettisoned hundreds of SEA/SEIU 1984 members into action supporting the proposed increase, for without additional funding for the NH DOT, the roads and bridges already in poor condition would continue to deteriorate. The infrastructure would be unsafe and inefficient; moreover hundreds of DOT workers would lose their jobs.
Sen. James Rausch (R), the bill’s prime sponsor, pushed for raising money for road improvements last year without success and raised the issue again this year. “I ran into a pot hole, blew out a tire and wasn’t sure how we’d proceed,” Rausch said. “But I think if we decide that we’re going to work toward solving a problem, we can do that.” The bill had bipartisan support.
But, is this new revenue going to be enough? Sen. Rausch said lawmakers still must address a looming shortfall in the Department of Transportation’s operating budget which – if not addressed in the next budget – could result in hundreds of layoffs. Rausch said the shortfall will be addressed in the two-year budget for the years starting July 1, 2015. That budget will be written next year.
“I want to give assurances that this body, in the discussions with leadership, we do recognize we have a problem that will be addressed in the next budget cycle,” said Sen. Rausch immediately before the vote. “We want to make sure we can afford …the snow plowers to plow, cut the grass, etc. So to our state employees that are very dedicated – we haven’t forgotten them. We will get this worked out next budget cycle.”
Senators also passed a bill aimed at spending more of the state’s highway fund on road and bridge projects. Under state law, 26 percent of the highway fund goes to the state Department of Safety. This bill would require some of the safety money to come from the state’s general fund instead, and it also establishes a committee to study how the fund is used.
Gov. Maggie Hassan has said if a consensus is reached on a tax increase, she will sign the legislation.
Both bills will now have a public hearing before a House committee before going to the House floor. It is important that SEA/SEIU 1984 members keep up their supportive efforts for this bill by contacting members of the House and letting them know that their constituents are for this important bill.
If you are concerned about what this may mean for you at the gas pumps, fear not. Experts say there may be no visible difference for consumers; and even if the entire increase was paid for by consumers it would be insignificant. For a car averaging 25 mpg that drives 10,000 miles a year, the cost of a 4-cent increase would be $16 over the course of the year.