Massive new gas tax not needed

The claim by Reps. Carson et al. (letter, March 19) that their votes for an 83% increase in the gas tax were necessary to fix our deteriorating infrastructure is just plain wrong.

Oh, their intentions are good – my town of Sunapee could dearly use more money for roads – but the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The bill they voted for does not do what they say it will.

The fact is that HB 617 won’t repair a single bridge nor pave a single mile of road. It does not spend a dime on roads and bridges. It is a taxing bill, not a spending bill. Their rhetoric simply does not match reality.

Their massive tax increase does not mean there will be an increase in spending on roads and bridges. The budget writers can always find a way to divert money elsewhere. The proposed budget actually diverts $28 million away from the department of Transportation (DOT). When their budget spends LESS money on roads and bridges, why should struggling taxpayers put MORE money into the highway fund?

There is an alternative, a way to send more money to towns and cities, and to spend more money on roads and bridges, without a huge tax increase. The first step is the budget writers should stop diverting money away from DOT. Before taxpayers are forced to spend a dime more on new taxes, make sure the old taxes are spent the right way.

The Highway Fund collects more than $270 million per year via the current gas tax and vehicle registration fees. That would be more than enough money to maintain and improve our highway infrastructure if it were all spent on actual highways. The problem is that a full $80 million per year is siphoned off and spent on things that have nothing to do with building or maintaining roads and bridges.

The proposed budget allocates just 67% of the Highway Fund to the DOT. (Current law says that “no less than 73%” should go to DOT, but budget writers simply change the law when they want money to go somewhere else. That is exactly what they could do with the new gas tax despite promises to the contrary.)

Without raising the gas tax a penny, instead by reallocating and prioritizing spending, the legislature could raise more money for roads and bridges. The legislature should increase the DOT’s allocation of existing highway money to 80%, 90%, or a full 100%.

Currently, $30 million goes in block grants to towns and cities. The legislature could increase that amount to $35 million. That would actually be more money to municipalities than the new gas tax would produce.

Those two changes – dedicating Highway Fund expenditures to actual highways, not diverting to other agencies, and increasing the block grants to localities – those two changes would provide more money for roads and bridges than the new gas tax would. There is simply no need for higher taxes.

But what about all those other agencies currently funded with gas tax money? They are a little more than 1% of the whole budget. Let them find money in the rest of the budget. If roads and highways are high priority, that means that something else must be lower priority. Let them cut lower priority spending.

The new tax lets our legislators avoid making the hard choices as to which items are higher/lower priority. If they won’t cut other spending then the net effect of new taxes is to provide more money for low priority items.

(Printed in InterTown Record, April 2, 2013.)

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