Do you trust your state government officials?
This often is the question: Do you trust state government officials?
At a recent special meeting of the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee, after intense questioning by one senator, Commissioner of the Department of Insurance Roger Sevigny, with frustration, simply said you either could trust him or not.
The issue was whether or not the state would accept a federal grant to help the department review and approve insurance plans to be sold on the New Hampshire insurance marketplace created by the federal government under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). But the real issue, for at least one senator, was distrust of the Commissioner’s justification of his request for approval of the grant. In the end, by a six-to-four vote, the grant was accepted.
That same distrust of government was in the forefront of the debate in the Senate late last month about how to use the proceeds from a proposed increase in the road toll, usually called the gas tax. A majority of Senators are ready to pass an increase.
The worry of some constituents and legislators is that the money raised by a gas tax increase will not go to road and bridge repairs. Some fear it will go to wasteful administration or be diverted to fund operations of the Department of Safety or other departments. Senate Bill 367, as passed on a preliminary vote in the Senate, simply raises the road toll by 4.2 cents and has the department determine how the money is used.
An amendment approved by the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday tells the Transportation Department how to spend the $32 million the increase will generate each year. The first two cents from the road toll increase will fund a 20-year bond generating $200 million to complete the expansion of Interstate 93 from Salem to Manchester.
This project has sucked up hundreds of millions of dollars and taken attention away from other smaller worthy projects around the state. If we can finally get Interstate 93 completed, then we can have a more balanced approach to managing the state’s overall highway program.
In the fiscal year beginning July 1, resurfacing projects will use $13 million of the gas tax increase. These projects are specifically named in the 10-year highway plan that will be approved by the Legislature in the next couple of months.
Resurfacing projects in Senate District 8 include 3 miles of the Croydon Turnpike, 5.5 miles of Route 103A between New London and Newbury, 4.2 miles of Route 11 between Claremont and Newport, 10.3 miles of Route 31 between Hillsborough and Goshen, 4.5 miles of Route 9 in Sullivan and Stoddard, 6.1 miles of Route 114 in Weare and Henniker, and 4 miles of Route 47 in Francestown.
Another $12 million of the road toll increase will go to reconstruction projects. These include a half mile of Route 114 in Sutton and 2.4 miles of Route 149 in Deering. These paving and reconstruction projects will be completed within one year starting in July.
Longer term, starting on July 1, 2015, about $4 million, or 12 percent of the increase, will go to municipalities to supplement the current annual highway block grant of $30 million for local projects.
In addition, in the first year of the increase, $8.3 million will go to the state aid for municipal bridges. The second year and thereafter, the amount will drop to $6.8 million, but that still doubles the amount currently provided. The increased grants for local bridges and roads should help relieve some of the pressure on property taxpayers.
If you distrust government and how it spends the road toll you pay when you fill your gas tank, legislators have heard you. The new revenue will go to projects identified in law. The 4.2 cents increase, if passed, ends in 20 years when the bonds for Interstate 93 are paid off, unless a future legislature votes to continue it.
Bob Odell, a Republican, is the New Hampshire senator representing Antrim, Bennington and Francestown, among other towns.