NHWatchdog - $673 million Transportation Deficit

(CONCORD) New Hampshire plan for transportation projects spends $673 million more than it raises over the next decade. The Public Works and Highways Committee presents its draft of HB 2010, the Ten Year Transportation Improvement Plan, to the full House tomorrow. The Committee made no changes to Governor John Lynch’s submission, which called for $3.6 billion in total transportation spending over the next ten years, even though official DOT revenue estimates only anticipate $2.9 billion in available revenues.

The Legislature has habitually built a “deficit” into the Ten Year Plan, which is updated every other year. But this year’s gap is far larger than the $300 million the DOT Commissioner George Campbell forecast back in December.

$450 million of the $673 million deficit comes from the state’s various highway funds, which plan on spending $2.6 billion despite raising just $2.15 billion over ten years.  The state’s Turnpike Fund is maintained separately, and adds another $128 million to the deficit.  The plan also spends $225 million on railroad projects, while generating just $5 million in railroad revenue.  The transit and airport portions of the Ten Year Plan are self-funding and limited to available revenue. Governor Lynch’s recommendation added $207 in new projects not included in the current Ten Year Plan, which was last updated in 2008.

View the spending and revenue estimates in the Ten Year Plan at NH Watchdog.

Closing the Gap

Part of the unusually high spending gap can be traced to the state’s surcharge on vehicle registrations.  The Legislature passed a temporary increase in that fee, which is set to expire next July.  The Transportation Department’s original revenue forecast included this surcharge continuing for the rest of the decade.  But with such a large gap between spending and revenues, the next Legislature will be hard pressed to let the “temporary” fee expire as planned.  Last week, DOT Commissioner George Campbell shelved plans to build a new toll booth on I-93 in Salem.  Public Works Committee Vice-Chair David Campbell advocates a gas tax, escalating to $.15 per gallon, dedicated to highway funding.

Front Loaded Spending

HB 2010 front-loads 61% of total transportation spending in the first five years of the next decade.  It would spend $2.2 billion from 2011 to 2015, but only $1.4 billion between 2016 and 2020.  Assuming that future legislatures maintain total transportation spending at its current pace for the rest of the decade would add an additional $789 million in unfunded spending.