Over the last several years, the Chamber has been closely following discussions in Concord concerning the status of New Hampshire's highway and bridge infrastructure. As our readers will know, the data that has been put forward by DOT Commissioner Chris Clement shows that our roads and bridges are deteriorating at an alarming rate, and we believe that this is a major and immediate problem for New Hampshire businesses and for the state's economic development and tourism interests. We are not aware of anyone who has presented evidence to dispute what the Commissioner has been saying over the past year on this subject, and that comes as no surprise, given the solid nature of the case that he has put forward (and the evidence under our own tires). So, the fact that a significant problem exists is just about universally accepted.
Thus, the real question here is not whether the problem exists, but rather how to address it. Should there be an increase in the gas tax to raise the funds necessary that will fix the transportation infrastructure problem? In view of the overwhelming significance of this issue for the business community, and the obvious need of the Chamber to weigh in on the subject, we conducted a survey of our membership to find out how our members feel about a hike in the gas tax and what they think the Chamber should be doing about it.
The results of the survey are in, and we can report to you today that the responses to this survey were decidedly in favor of the Chamber supporting a one-time increase in the gas tax.
We had representatives from over a hundred different member companies respond to the survey - a pretty strong response (and of those members who did not respond, we think it is safe to say that they more than likely are at least neutral on the issue, since those who oppose a gas tax would be more likely to have a strong incentive to respond). 87% of the respondents said that the test of whether the Chamber should support a tax increase should be based upon whether or not such a tax increase will benefit the majority of the Chamber's members in the long run. Only five out of the 101 respondents said that the Chamber should never support an increase in taxes impacting businesses.
In response to a question about whether Commissioner Clement has adequately made his case, 68.1% agree that something should be done to increase funding for road and bridge maintenance, and an additional 14.3% said that although they were not familiar enough to comment on this topic, they trusted Commissioner Clement's expertise enough to support an increase. Only two out of the 101 respondents said that they thought that nothing needs to be done.
The central question in our survey concerned whether the Chamber membership supports an increase in the gas tax. 52.7% said that they support a one-time, modest increase of 8 to 10-cents in the gas tax. An additional 33% supported a gas tax tied to inflation so that the tax will automatically increase in future years, rather than just doing a 1-time increase. 14.3% of the members said that they do not support any gas tax increase.
The results of this survey were the subject of a discussion by the Chamber's State Advocacy Committee on Monday morning. That committee unanimously voted to recommend that the Chamber support the membership consensus that there should be a one-time 8 to10-cent increase in the gas tax.
The membership consensus seems to reflect what we think is the general view, which is to say that the gas tax is cut out of a different type of cloth than the other taxes we have to pay. We see the direct results of this tax every time we drive on the roads (and, unlike other types of taxes, which go into the State's general fund and might be used for anything, the gas tax, because of a provision in the state constitution, can only be used for highway-related purposes). The gas tax was increased twice under Governor Judd Gregg and once under the greatest anti-taxer of them all, Governor Meldrim Thomson. Additionally, the gas tax is one that is partially funded by a lot of out-of-state drivers and tourists, so it's nice to know that the entire burden of this tax is not shared exclusively by NH residents and businesses.
Stand by for a further update next week on where the Chamber plans to go, in terms of publicly engaging with our legislators on this issue.
SB 367, the bill to increase the gas tax, is being sponsored by Republican Senator Jim Rausch of Derry, the Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee. The bill has not yet been scheduled for a hearing. We will keep you in the loop on this important issue.