No one likes taxes, even if it is a user fee — a road toll collected at the pump. But modern society relies upon the safe and efficient movement of people and goods on a well-maintained transportation network.
New Hampshire has enjoyed a stagnant gas tax rate for 20 years now — albeit at the cost of our decaying highway system. It was last raised by Governor Judd Gregg in 1991. In fact, Governor Gregg, a fiscally conservative Republican, saw fit to increase the rate twice in two years to address the growing need for construction and maintenance of N.H. roads and bridges.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that an increase in the tax would not increase the actual price at the pump at all. N.H. has the lowest rate of any state in New England and among the lowest in the nation. Yet our gas prices are comparable to surrounding states and the national average. That leads me to question whether we are lining petroleum companies' pockets at the expense of one of our state's greatest assets — our transportation system.
While taxes, or in this case a user fee, are easy for politicians to demagogue, it is important that the driving public consider the true costs of not maintaining our roads. Last year, as a result of bad roads, I had to replace both front coil springs in my pickup. The total cost of the repairs exceeded $750. I would have to drive over 100,000 miles to realize that cost from a 15-cent increase, if reflected in the pump price. Yes — over 100,000 miles!
So what would an increase in the state's gas tax mean for me? Under the proposed increased (15-cents phased in over four years), a trip in my truck from Nashua to the Canadian border (200 miles) would cost an additional $1.50 in year four. That's only 40 cents extra in year one for the privilege of using this state resource for the four hour ride! This is an insignificant increase when compared to the cost of wear on tires, reduced fuel efficiency, and broken suspension that results from that same trip on roads in poor condition now.
We've been watching our roads decay for 20 years. We need good roads for a thriving economy. We need good roads for the safety of our communities. Politicians from both sides of the isle recognize that the declining condition of our roads presents a serious problem however many have lacked the courage to provide leadership on this issue. They've fought to hold the line on the gas tax while saddling today's motorists with higher maintenance cost, our state with a highway infrastructure in major disrepair, and our kids with $1 billion in road repairs that will continue to escalate in cost.
New Hampshire citizens are a frugal lot, but we understand responsibility and protecting our investments. We have an opportunity with House Bill 617 to stand up and responsibly say that we are willing pay to maintain this critical resource. Contact your elected officials and tell them it is time to take responsibility for New Hampshire's largest investment. Pushing this problem on to future generations is unfair and unwise. After all, it has been a generation of doing nothing that has brought us to this point. We must recognize the heavy cost of doing nothing and the drag of poor roads on N.H.'s economy.