CONCORD — A 15-cent increase in the gas tax received preliminary approval in the New Hampshire House yesterday after two hours of debate pitting highway needs against what people can afford.
House Bill 617 moved the bill to the House Ways and Means Committee for more review after a 207-163 vote.
The bill would increase the 18-cent-per-gallon tax for the first time in 22 years. The proposal would phase the 15-cent increase over four years for regular fuel and six years for diesel.
The prime sponsor, Rep. David Campbell, D-Nashua, told the House the tax hike would help fund critical highway improvements the Legislature repeatedly has put off.
New Hampshire has an infrastructure crisis getting worse by the year, he said.
“Do nothing and the problem becomes bigger and much more expensive,” Campbell said.
The tax increase also would fund completion of the Interstate 93 widening, which is why the Greater Derry Londonderry Chamber of Commerce supports it, he said.
“Without new revenue,” he said, “that project will not be completed.”
Campbell described I-93 as “a clogged and failed artery.”
Rep. Daniel Eaton, D-Stoddard, agreed with Campbell, saying the state is behind on necessary highway work.
“This is an attempt to catch up and get the roads and bridges back where they belong,” Eaton said.
But the proposal concerned others worried about the potential effect on consumers and small businesses.
Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry, said he has received many emails from constituents, telling him they are struggling enough with taxes.
“This is the wrong approach,” Baldasaro said.
He described the proposed tax hike as an attack on the poor and middle class.
Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, D-Manchester, said the proposal is a classic overreach, resulting in an 83 percent increase for taxpayers.
“An 83 percent increase in any tax should be beyond the realm of any consideration here,” Vaillancourt said.