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Protest greets Hassan in Windham for signing of 22% increase in gas tax

Union Leader Correspondent

May 20. 2014 2:26PM
Keene resident Rich Paul protested during Tuesday's ceremony on the I-93 southbound bridge in Windham, where Governor Hassan signed SB 367 into law. Paul said he opposes the gas tax increase, which he believes would hurt the middle class. (April Guilmet/Union Leader Correspondent)

WINDHAM - Governor Maggie Hassan's signing of Senate Bill 367, effectively increasing state gas and diesel taxes by 4.2 cents per gallon on Tuesday morning elicited strong responses from supporters and opponents.

Dozens of legislators gathered at the weigh station at Interstate 93 South in Windham, later making a long caravan down the highway to yet-to-be opened bridge over Route 111, where the governor signed the bill into law.

Hassan called the bipartisan transportation funding bill “the most significant state-level investment in transportation infrastructure in 23 years.”

“This legislation is an important step toward addressing our transportation needs, keeping New Hampshire's economy moving forward by advancing critical road and bridge projects, finishing the long-overdue expansion of I93 and improving commutes for our workers and visitors,” the governor said

SB 367's passage raises the state gas tax from 18 cents to 22 cents per gallon. It also eliminates the toll at Exit 12 on the F. E. Everett Turnpike in Merrimack, while establishing a study committee on the efficiency of the Department of Transportation.

Rep. David Campbell, chair of the House Public Works and Highways Committee, said that every dollar raised from the gas tax would go directly to the construction and maintenance of state and municipal roads and bridges.

According to Campbell, 33 percent of those funds will go to towns and cities to fix local roads and bridges; 25 percent will be used to repair the state's secondary highways; and 42 percent will be used to complete the I93 widening project.

“This is the state's top transportation priority and it's now assured of completion by 2020,” Campbell said of the I93 project.

Sen. Jim Rausch, the bill's sponsor, agreed.

“Without SB 367, we wouldn't have the resources to complete the I-93 project,” he said. “Our citizens want their leaders to have the wisdom and courage to solve problems, and that's exactly what SB367 does.”

As legislators and state highway officials gathered around the governor's podium, a growing crowd of protesters waved signs in the background.

Greg Moore of Americans for Prosperity said he opposed the gas tax increase, noting that about a third of the current gas tax monies are already being used for non-highway purposes.

“Gas prices were already high,” Moore said. “Right now there are so many working families that can't afford diesel and gas.”

In a written statement released Wednesday morning, the NH State Republican Committee likewise voiced its opposition to the gas tax.

“A gas tax during challenging economic times is bad for New Hampshire because it will unfairly burden the middle class and hurt small businesses,” the statement read.

Self-professed "Free Stater" Rich Paul drove over from Keene to protest Wednesday's signing. Paul made his way up the embankment carrying a handmade sign that read “Hassan Pass on the Gas Tax."

“When the economy is in a depression, the last thing want to do is increase taxes,” Paul said.

Another protester, Manchester resident Nate Thomas, offered similar sentiments.

“I'm not happy with an increase in gas prices,” Thomas said. “Yes, it might provide a few construction jobs for a couple years, but it's really going to hurt people on fixed incomes.”

Matt Murphy, executive director of Citizens for A Strong New Hampshire, said the group has been following the bill since its introduction and its passage is concerning.

“The middle class is going to suffer from this,” Murphy said. “Because this won't only increase the costs at the pump, it will also increase the costs of goods and services (due to gas increases on freight companies).”

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