New highway bill is only a first step
Congress takes major step forward by passing two-year highway bill.
Congress recently took a major step forward with the passage of a two-year highway bill. While this represents a major step forward for hundreds of New Hampshire businesses and thousands of working families, more must be done to ensure the long-term stability to the federal highway fund.
The successful bipartisan effort to enact a multi-year highway bill was important for New Hampshire for several reasons. Most importantly, maintenance of highways, bridges and other transportation infrastructure is a core government responsibility that does not go away. Similar to maintaining the roof on your home, failure to address small problems can lead to larger and more expensive problems down the road. Highways are no different. If you don't adequately invest in them, the problems get bigger and the expense of fixing those problems becomes larger for taxpayers.
Passage of this bill provides stability to states, and the ability to plan for the appropriate maintenance of this infrastructure. With maintenance programs in place, private industry is able to plan and invest accordingly in workers and capital equipment. While many government programs claim to be job creators, investments in infrastructure truly do benefit to our state's economy. First, investments in roads provide the foundation for additional economic growth, as New Hampshire companies are able to move products and services more efficiently. Second, in addition to road construction companies, gravel and asphalt manufacturers, countless other small businesses — including hotels, restaurants, local hardware stores, construction equipment sales, and various other local companies — benefit directly from these projects.
While the recently passed legislation was a positive step, Congress did little to tackle the long-term problems facing the federal highway fund. The development of the next federal highway bill will require more from New Hampshire's congressional delegation than a simple yes or no vote. We need their leadership in crafting a new transportation funding policy.
For the past 50 years, the federal gasoline tax has provided a stable funding source for maintenance and development of our highway infrastructure. Essentially, the gasoline tax is a user fee that is assessed on those drivers that use our nation's roads. The more you use the roads, the more gasoline tax you pay. Recently, with the development of more efficient gasoline engines and new automobile technology, the gasoline tax has not kept pace with the ongoing maintenance and construction costs associated with our highways. While these developments are positive for our country, they have necessitated a change in the way we raise funds to support our highways.
While there are many options available to move us away from the reliance on a gasoline tax, any policy change this significant will take time, education and compromise. The time to begin this effort is now. Delays will only push us further down the troubling path of under-investment in our state and country's infrastructure and create a greater deficit for taxpayers.