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February 21. 2013 8:22PM

Gas tax bill sponsors take new approach

CONCORD - Supporters of increases in fuel taxes to pay for repairs to state highways have jettisoned one element of their bill that was turning some potential supporters away.

Rep. David Campbell, D-Nashua, the primary sponsor of the bill, brought an amendment to the committee at a meeting Thursday which dumped the proposed increase of $15 in car registration fees.

Instead, Campbell proposed extending the bill from a three-year, 12 cents per gallon increase in the tax to a four-year, 15 cent boost.

"I'm comfortable with that. I was under the assumption that some people wanted a little 'reg fee' increase and I was wrong," Campbell said. "That's what I was told, by Republicans mostly."

Members of the House Public Works and Highway Committee voted unanimously to change the bill Thursday, and then voted unanimously to recommend that the House pass the measure.

Even with the revision to the proposal, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Morse said the bill will likely die when and if it reaches the Senate.

The Americans for Prosperity group also criticized the legislation in its newest form. "The House's insatiable need for more revenue trumps what is in the best interest of the hard working families in this state," the group said in a statement.

The original bill called for three annual increases of 4 cents per gallon in the gasoline tax beginning on July 1 of this year. But the new version tops that 12 cents per gallon hike with a 3 cents per gallon increase, to raise the gas tax from its current 18 cents per gallon to 33 cents by July, 2016.

House Bill 617 would earmark all of the revenue from the higher fuel taxes to a special fund for repairing state highways and bridges. Cities and towns would get 12.5 percent of the money in direct aid to fix locally-maintained bridges and roads.

The original bill, with the 12 cents per gallon tax increase and the higher registration fees, would have raised an estimated $1 billion over the next decade.

By lopping off the registration fee increase, the new proposal would raise $20 million less, or $980 million over the next 10 years, even with the additional 3 cents per gallon tax increase beginning in 2016.

Campbell said he doesn't see the change made in the bill this week as a sign of further compromise to come. "Beyond compromising for the sake of compromising, it makes no sense to, the money is so badly needed," Campbell said. "At that point you're just doing for somebody's ego or somebody's pride; the fact is we can use more money than this, the problems are bigger than that."


wsmith@unionleader.com


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