Mar 25, 2015 4:56 PM
House budget writers scrambling to fill Department of Transportation budget
CONCORD - House budget writers scrambled Wednesday, but failed to come up with a politically acceptable way to avoid major cuts to the Department of Transportation.
The proposed DOT cuts would lead to the layoff of about 700 workers or nearly half the agency's payroll.
NH1 News confirmed that during a private caucus earlier in the day, rank-and-file Republicans said they could not support raising the state's gasoline tax to erase the need to cut highway spending by $88 million over the next two years.
As a result, House Speaker Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, used a procedural step to move the highway budget bill back to the House Finance Committee so that it could do further work on it.
Chairman Neal Kurk, R-Weare, had said an alternative plan would be presented to his committee at 2 p.m. Wednesday.
But a half hour after it was to begin, Kurk announced the committee would not meet until 11 a.m. Thursday.
Kurk and other Republican members of the House budget panel said they would support raising the gas tax by up to 8 cents per gallon.
Yet, Kurk and his backers would need the backing of more than 40 House GOP members to pass a gas tax hike.
Sources close to this dispute said among the options Kurk and other top House budget writers are considering include making cuts to the Department of Health and Human Services and University System of New Hampshire to close some or all of the highway budget gap.
The group also is looking at a one-time or temporary increase in automobile and truck registration fees.
Gov. Maggie Hassan proposed in her budget last month a permanent, 35 percent increase in registration fees to generate about $50 million a year for state highways.