New Hampshire’s stimulus incentive

With a recession officially declared, it’s apparent the economy needs all the stimulus it can get. Of course, in the grand scheme of things, there’s not much the state of New Hampshire can do, but there’s at least one action state government can take that could almost immediately put people to work and inject some much-needed money into the state’s ailing construction industry.

Raise the gasoline tax.

The bulk of the state’s highway fund is raised through the state gas tax, which has stood at 18 cents since 1992 (another 1.6 cents in smaller taxes bring the current total to 19.6 cents). As the highway fund dwindles — we are already spending $100,000 more per month than we have, according to state Transportation Commissioner George Campbell – the state is digging itself into an even deeper hole. There’s talk of a $153 million deficit in the Department of Transportation budget.

It might not be the most popular idea amid such difficult economic times, but New Hampshire has a pressing need to fix and strengthen its transportation infrastructure, from a safety and an economic development standpoint. If the state continues to nibble around the edges of its growing transportation problems, the troubles will only grow more unmanageable and more expensive. Even if funding comes from Washington early next year as part of a federal stimulus package, the money won’t be nearly enough to address what has become our billion-dollar problem.

How did we get into this mess? As Rep. John Graham of Bedford — a member of transportation study panels for the past six years – put it, “There was a political will on the part of both parties to do nothing over the last six or seven years.”

His solution? “Unless we do something about the revenue stream, we’re never going to get out of this problem.”