The House Finance Committee’s budget increases the diversion of Highway Fund away from the Department of Transportation to other state agencies to $28.5 million.

Under the House’s proposed budget, 67.3% of Highway Funds, net of block grants to the cities and towns, will go to Transportation, 31.7% to Safety, and 1.1% for other. These ratios represent an additional $500,000 over the biennium being diverted away from the Department of Transportation over the Governor’s budget.

RSA 9:9-a, which set the ratios of Highway Fund spending, would have required a minimum of 73% of the funds raised to go to the Department of Transportation, with caps of 26% to the Department of Safety and 1% for other agencies. The law, which was passed with broad bipartisan support several years ago, will be suspended as part of the language in both the Governor’s and House’s Budgets.

Updated Click here for a comprehensive spreadsheet

March 2013

By Joshua Elliott-Traficante

As detailed in an earlier piece on the Highway Fund diversion[1], the Department of Safety receives a sizeable portion of the revenue raised by the state Highway Fund. Historically the Department has received roughly between 24% and 32% of the amount collected, net of block grants to the municipalities.

This diversion, however, is completely constitutional. In 1938, the New Hampshire Constitution was amended, requiring all taxes and fees related to roads, fuel, and motor vehicles be dedicated to highway construction and maintenance. It was passed after attempts were made in the previous session to divert highway taxes to other purposes. While the purpose of the amendment was to “prohibit the use of motor vehicle taxes and gasoline taxes being used for any purpose but for highways,” the language specifically allows funds to be spent for “the supervision of traffic thereon.” That carve out authorizes funds, now segregated in the dedicated Highway Fund, to pay for things such as the state troopers who patrol the highways.

Contrary to popular belief, it does not all go to the State Police, which accounts for just under half of the Highway Fund money spent at the Department. Rather, the diversion funds pay for a number of activities, which can be broken up into three categories: Administrative, Motor Vehicles and the Division of State Police.

Administrative: $21.26 Million

The largest single expense under the Administrative grouping is the transfer to the Department of Information Technology (DOIT). DOIT is unique in that rather than receiving appropriations directly, it is funded nearly entirely through transfers from other state agencies. The Department of Safety transferred $8.79 million in FY13 in Highway Funds to DOIT, which accounted for nearly 87% of the Department of Safety’s total transfer.

There are a number of back office functions performed by the Department of Safety that are paid for by the Highway Fund such as the Road Toll Collection and Audit and the Office of Policy and Planning among nearly a dozen others. Combined they total $7.83 million.

General Personnel Costs account for $4.2 million in Highway Funds, which goes largely to retiree health insurance and pension costs.

Motor Vehicles: $18.89 million

At $16.65 million, the largest piece of this category is the Division of Motor Vehicles itself, which handles automobile titles and registrations as well as driver licensing. Roughly 98% of the DMV’s total budget came from the Highway Fund. The Bureau of Hearings, which hears license suspension cases and appeals accounts for the remaining $2.2 million spent in this category.

State Police: $36.74

At $27.4 million, the vast majority of the Division of State Police’s portion of the Highway Fund revenue goes to pay for the Traffic Bureau which is tasked with policing the state’s highways and roads. An additional $5.11 million pays for Enforcement.

However, not all of the money spent at the Division of State Police pays for troopers on the road. Both the Forensic and Toxicology Labs receive 100% of their funding from the Highway Fund, at a cost of $3.45 million. Rounding out State Police is Administrative Expenses, coming in at $780,000.

Click here for a pdf version of this paper


Charlie Arlinghaus

March 6, 2013

As originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader

New Hampshire’s gas tax and highway fund are little understood even as the legislature votes today on doubling the state’s gas tax. The state’s highways are paid for with user fees and only with user fees, revenues are stagnant even if costs aren’t, the Department of Transportation is one of the more efficient branches of government, but many gimmicks still surround highway funds and the diversion of resources.

New Hampshire’s constitution dedicates all taxes and fees associated with roads and motor vehicles specifically to construction, maintenance, and supervision of traffic on highways (think state police). But from time immemorial legislators have seen fit to divert some of what seemed like a flush pot of money to other uses.

Roads at the state level are funded by two main buckets: (1)the turnpike fund which receives all the money from tolls for a dedicated fraction of the state’s roads and (2)everything else lumped in the highway fund. The turnpike fund is paid for only with tolls and is flush with money. The highway fund’s major revenue source is the gas tax and is struggling to keep up especially as those funds are diverted to other sources.

In New Hampshire, all highway spending of any sort is paid for with user fees – gas taxes, tolls, motor vehicle registration fees, and a few smaller fees. These fees support all state spending and a large grant to municipalities for local roads. In addition, almost a third of these revenues are sent to other departments – largely to pay for state troopers.

The gas tax was set at eighteen cents per gallon in 1991. Revenues don’t rise with inflation or price and lessen as we get better gas mileage. Between 2002 and 2012, inflation was 27.6% but gas tax receipts rose by only 1%. Motor vehicle fees, a minority share of road money, kept up with inflation.

This has placed both good pressure and bad pressure on lawmakers and administrators. The gap between 1% growth in the gas tax and 27% inflation led to the Great Highway Robbery of 2009. To try to get at some of the turnpike money (flush from toll increases), then-Gov. Lynch concocted the scheme of selling a $1.6 mile stretch of I-95 to ourselves. It was moved from the highway fund to the turnpike fund. For the privilege of maintaining it, the turnpike agreed to transfer $120 million to the highway fund supposedly over 20 years. Payment for the first two years was $50 million.

This seemed like a great trick so the legislature of a different party repeated it in 2011, “escalating the payment” to another $52 million in 2012 and 2013. The current governor plans on repeating the trick but the loan is almost paid off so there’s only $29 million left. So the “loan” will be paid in six years instead of the 20 advertised. And that’s the problem with gimmicks. This one worked for two-and-a-half budgets and now there’s a hole.

The good pressure is the pressure to be efficient. Over the last twenty years, most departments saw a big increase in the number of employees then drop in the latest recession. The total number of state full-time positions is the about the same in 2012 as in 1994. But while the rest of state government increased by 2.5%, the number of positions at Transportation declined by 16% (1,959 to 1,650).

Lawmakers need to recognize they are out of gimmicks to shore up the fund. There is a not another $50 million biennial windfall waiting for them. But as a starting point, they can follow the laws they’ve already passed.

No one disputes that some gas tax money can and should be spent on state troopers. But the 2008 law that requires a minimum percentage of the tax (73% in the coming budget) be spent on repairs is reasonable. Even when the last legislature allowed extra money to be spent on troopers, they nonetheless kept the provision requiring a minimum percentage be spent at the department of transportation.

A four cent increase in the gas tax would raise about $27 million each year. Fifteen cents would raise about $100 million per year (current gas tax receipts are $123 million). Merely following the current law to make sure the existing user fees are spent as advertised would add $28 million over two years before charging anyone anything more.

There is a legitimate debate to be had about whether the current highway fund sources can pay for the highway system we currently have. That debate, however, will be difficult if we can’t trust the legislature to start by following the laws they pass.

March 2013

By Joshua Elliott-Traficante

In New Hampshire, not only is spending on highways paid for entirely with user fees like gas taxes and registration fees but the user fees are often diverted to other uses. The largest recipient is the Department of Safety, ostensibly to pay for state troopers but smaller amount of money have been transferred to other departments as varied as Cultural Resources, Health & Human Resources, and the Board of Land & Tax Appeals.

In 2008, legislation was enacted to limit the diversions and ensure a greater share of dedicated revenues remained at the Department of Transportation. However, Governor Hassan’s proposed budget, rather than building on the progress made, reverses the gains made over the last two budget cycles.


Figure 1: Spending as budgeted, net of Highway Block Grants to municipalities, not accounting for lapses

The Constitutional Carve Out: “…including the supervision of traffic thereon”

In 1938, the New Hampshire Constitution was amended, requiring all taxes and fees related to roads, fuel, and motor vehicles be dedicated to highway construction and maintenance. It was passed after attempts were made in the previous session to divert highway taxes to other purposes. While the purpose of the amendment was to “prohibit the use of motor vehicle taxes and gasoline taxes being used for any purpose but for highways,” the language specifically allows funds to be spent for “the supervision of traffic thereon.” That carve out authorizes funds, now segregated in the dedicated Highway Fund, to pay for those state troopers who patrol the highways.

Highway Fund Diversion Cap:

When the highway fund seemed flush with money, loose interpretation of the constitutional language permitted larger share of the total highway revenues to be transferred not just to Safety but to as many as a dozen other agencies as well to pay for things loosely related to highways.

In 2008, the Legislature passed HB 1618 to limit diversions and ensure a greater share of the limited revenue went to its primary purpose. Phased in over three budgets, the new law requires 73%of the total revenue to stay at Transportation, caps the amount diverted to Safety at 26% and limits all other uses to 1% of total revenue.


Figure 2: Spending as budgeted, net of Highway Block Grants to municipalities, not accounting for lapses

The FY10-11 required at least 68.5% to stay at Transportation, a goal budget writers exceeded. For the FY12-13 budget, the minimum ratcheted up to 70.75% which budget writers met although they suspended the second half of the law to allow Safety to spend slightly more if needed but not at the expense of Transportation. They ended up meeting the goals and rendering the suspension moot.

Looking Forward: The Governor’s Budget and Full Suspension

The Highway Fund Diversion Cap law would require 73% of dedicated revenues stay with the Department of Transportation rather than 69.8% in the Governor’s current proposal. The Governor’s proposal would allow safety to spend 29.1% rather than their 26% statutory limit and would divert 1.1% of revenues to other sources rather than the 1% limit required by law. Though the differences in percentages seem small, the result is a diversion of $28 million away from highways.

In the recently released HB 2, the budget trailer bill, the entire section of the law stipulating the ratchets for the FY14-15 biennium have been suspended.

Result: Less Money for Roads and Bridges

While it is easy to get bogged down in ratios and statutes, the end result is that under the Governor’s proposed budget, more of the state’s Highway Fund, which is entirely funded by user fees, is not being used to fix bridges and repave roads. Instead it is being used for spending on other state agencies.

Though substantially paring down the Department of Safety’s take of Highway Fund revenues would not be enough to cover all of the costs of repairing the state’s infrastructure, it would be a good start.

Click here to download a .pdf version

Charlie Arlinghaus

February 27, 2013

As originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader

The state’s budget laws are often ignored. The general public knows this and so routinely believes that, no matter what they hear, some wool is being pulled over their eyes. This skepticism is strongest in the area of transportation where we presume diversions and shell games are routine. The details often prove the public right. This year’s budget includes a diversion of $28 million of supposedly dedicated highway fund revenue in violation of a law that is only a few years old and already being ignored.

It is commonly accepted wisdom among the public that dedicated highway funds are routinely diverted to non-highway purposes. The constitution was amended in 1938 to provide that taxes and fees related to motor vehicles be used for no purpose other than building and maintaining highways and supervising traffic thereon.

This ironclad dedication exists with no other tax. But for as long as it has existed, people have believed that gas taxes were being diverted like a slush fund to other purposes. It became commonplace to rail against raiding the highway fund (where the dedicated funds are meant to reside). Nonetheless as much as 40% of funds were diverted under vague rationale – if you try hard enough, almost anything can be described as sort of, tangentially related to taking care of roads.

In 2008, however, legislators acted. Republican Rep. Ken Weyler and Democratic Rep. Marjorie Smith, between them chair of the House Finance Committee for six years, sponsored a highway spending cap. A minimum percentage of total gas tax and other highway fees had to be spent within the department of transportation — phased in until the percentage reached 73%. A maximum of 26% could be spent at Safety (on state troopers to supervise traffic in theory) and just 1% could be spent anywhere else.

It was a sensible law which I described as the best piece of legislation of 2008. I was critical of the 2011 budget for suspending the law temporarily even though legislators came close to the target. I worried that suspending the law would send a message that ignoring it is common practice. Ignoring it once makes it easy for legislators to smile at you as if you’re naïve and say “oh that! No one ever does that.”

Sure enough, a tiny diversion becomes a big one. Rep. Lynne Ober, a member of the finance committee had the legislative budget office check on compliance with the law in the governor’s proposed budget. She found that far from reaching the 73% minimum threshold, the budget misses that target by $28 million over the biennium.

In other words, the budget diverts $28 million of dedicated highway taxes and fees to non-highway purposes. Ober is an opponent of the gas tax and contrasted the diversion with the state’s urgent infrastructure needs: “She [Gov. Hassan] should have obeyed state law and put those needed funds into DOT for roads instead of trying to raise the gas tax.”

Ober’s cynicism about the diversion of funds highlights the struggle lawmakers have to earn people’s trust. Gas tax supporters want to raise an additional $120 million each year in dedicated money. But if the $120 million is desperately needed and absolutely, positively won’t be diverted, why is $28 million being diverted with only Rep. Ober raising the alarm?

Gas tax opponents may want the law observed to limit the need for more revenue. But gas tax supporters should also want the law followed to ensure existing revenues are spent as they are supposed to be and thereby create trust.

This diversion may be the tip of the iceberg. The governor’s budget summary includes a line in a spreadsheet indicating the state will raise $29.5 million for its general fund from “dedicated funds/other initiatives.” Which dedicated funds will be undedicated? What other initiatives? We’re not sure yet.

That explanation will wait for the arrival of what’s called HB2, the appropriation language part of the budget. That language required by law by February 15 hasn’t come and is often many weeks late. The law is routinely ignored because other people ignored it first and so we wait for explanation. Similarly, dedicated funds are not supposed to be undedicated but they routinely are so we’re expected to turn a blind eye.

The highway spending protection law is in its infancy. Whether it will have the force of law or become routinely suspended is probably in the hands of the current legislature.

Author’s Note [February 2015]: With the Capitol Corridor Study released, this paper is now out of date.

To read the updated version of this piece that incorporates the study’s findings, please click here or copy and paste the following link into your browser:

February 2013

Josh Elliott-Traficante

This week, the New Hampshire Executive Council is taking up a contract for a study looking at bringing commuter rail to the state.

There is a common misconception that the state has not studied this idea recently; however two lengthy studies have been completed in the past six years. A 43 page study was done in 2007 by the Passenger Rail Taskforce which looked at service to Manchester and another of similar length was done in 2010 by TranSystems for the NH Rail Authority, NHDOT and the Nashua Rail Planning Commission which looked at the entire corridor to Concord. While neither study recommends for or against introducing commuter rail, they provide a wealth of information as to how much the route would cost.

From the studies it is clear that constructing the route in its entirety to Concord would cost roughly $300 million and require subsidies of $11 million a year to operate.

Since there has been discussion of extending rail either just into Nashua, or just as far north as Manchester with service to Nashua, cost estimates for these, calculated from data in the studies, have been included as well.


Q: What is the Capital Corridor Project?

A: It is a proposal to extend commuter rail service north from Lowell, MA to Concord, NH, with intermediate stops in Nashua, Manchester Boston-Regional Airport and downtown Manchester. Trains would run into North Station in Boston.


Q: How Much Would it Cost to Build?

A: Costs are highly dependent on the scope of the improvements, such as single or double tracking the line or how far the line would run. (i.e. just to Nashua or Manchester or all the way up to Concord.) NHDOT in the 2013-2022 Ten Year plan estimates the capital costs the cost at roughly $265 million[1] if the Corridor were completed in its entirety, while the most recent study puts the cost at closer $330 million in 2013 dollars.[2]

Lowell to Nashua: $53-$66 million

Lowell to Manchester with service to Nashua: $159-$200 million

Lowell to Concord with service Nashua and Manchester: $265-$330 million


Q: Won’t Massachusetts Pay for the Upgrades for the Section of Track from Lowell to the State Line?

A: Probably not. According to the Joint Statement of Principles Concerning Proposed New Hampshire Capital Corridor Service[3], signed between Massachusetts and New Hampshire in 2001, the state of New Hampshire is responsible for all capital improvements required, including those needed in Massachusetts. Furthering the point, Governor Deval Patrick’s recently released transportation proposal does not include the extension of commuter rail service north of Lowell, indicating a lack of interest in Boston for expansion on that line.[4]


Q: How Much Would it Cost to Run?

A: Once built, there are two different kinds of costs: operating expenses and ongoing capital expenses. Operating expenses are the day to day costs, such as salaries for employees and fuel for the locomotives. A number of factors that go into projecting operating expenses, such as the number of trains in service and how many runs a day they are completing. TranSystems[5]based their study on 5 round trips per day and the Passenger Rail Taskforce Study[6] with 4 round trips per day.

Lowell to Nashua: $2.7 million per year

Lowell to Manchester with service to Nashua: $8 million per year

Lowell to Concord with service to Nashua and Manchester: $13.25 million per year

In addition to operating expenses, there are also ongoing capital expenses beyond just building the railroad. Track needs to be replaced, locomotives breakdown, coaches need to be refurbished and so forth.

Lowell to Nashua: $600,000 per year

Lowell to Manchester with service to Nashua: $1.8 million per year

Lowell to Concord with service to Nashua and Manchester: $3 million per year


Q: Would the State Need to Subsidize Commuter Rail?

A: Yes. Both the TranSystems[7]study and the Passenger Rail Taskforce Study[8] highlight the need for ongoing subsidies to keep the train from going bankrupt. These two studies estimate that passenger fares will cover between 30% and 50% of operating costs. In addition, there are ongoing capital costs that need to be paid for as well. Taking those into account, estimates of total subsidies needed every year are as follows:

Lowell to Nashua:  $1.9 – $2.6 million per year

Lowell to Manchester with service to Nashua: $5.8 – $7.5 million per year

Lowell to Concord with service to Nashua and Manchester: $9.25 – $12.25 million per year


Q: Where Would the State get the Money to Pay for It?

A: The studies are largely silent on the specific sources of funding for either the capital costs or the operating subsidies, aside from relying on Federal money.

For the roughly $300 million in construction costs, the state would likely have to depend on either Federal grants or borrow the money through a bond issue. The New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority does have the authority to both solicit Federal dollars and issue bonds. Last month however, the State Treasurer urged lawmakers to limit capital bonding to under $125 million, making the latter unlikely.[9]

Money from the Federal CMAQ program (Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality) can be used in the initial startup years to help cover the shortfall in operating costs. However, without special Congressional approval, it can only be used for a few years, not indefinitely. After the CMAQ money runs out, the state would have to find a source of money to cover the entirety of the shortfall itself.


Q: Couldn’t the State Use Money from the Gas Tax to Pay for Both Construction and the Subsidy?

A: No. Part II, Article 6-a of the NH Constitution[10]forbids the use of money from the Highway Fund on anything other than highways. In a particularly relevant case, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled unanimously in a suit brought by the New Hampshire Motor Transport Association (NHMTA v NHDOT 2004) that the state could not use highway funds to extend commuter rail into Nashua.[11]


Q: How Does the Downeaster, which Runs from Brunswick ME, Through the NH Seacoast into Boston, Address These Costs?

A: The capital costs of constructing the rail line were financed by issuing bonds, backed by the State of Maine, which were repaid with tax dollars. Federal CMAQ money is used to cover some of the operating losses. Under normal circumstances, CMAQ money is only allowed for the first several years of service, however, through special Congressional approval, Maine is allowed to use funds long after they would have otherwise been phased out. The remainder of the operating loss is covered by a state tax on rental cars. The Downeaster covers roughly 53% of its operating costs through fares.[12]


Links to Past Studies:

Passenger Rail Task Force Study: (2007)


TranSystems: (2010)


Click here for a pdf version of Questions and Answers on Commuter Rail in New Hampshire



A Look at the Costs Involved

Josh Elliott-Traficante

Yesterday’s approval by the Capital Budget Overview Committee to use Turnpike Credits to help fund a transportation study of the Capitol Corridor has revived hopes of commuter rail in New Hampshire. The Corridor project, if completed in its entirety, would see passenger rail service run from Concord through Manchester and Nashua, continuing south into North Station in Boston.

The project in terms of costs can divided roughly into four segments, totaling roughly $270 million from various sources:

1)      The Study: $4.4 Million

The study itself, the one moved forward Wednesday, will cost $4.4 million and take roughly a year to complete. Of the money being spent, $1.6 million the funds being used would come from from the state, while the balance would come from federal grants. Usually federal CMAQ grants require a state match but a clause in federal highway legislation allows money raised by tolls to be counted as that state’s match, allowing the state to receive the grants. The toll money, however, is not spent on the project itself and remains in the Turnpike Fund.

2)      Capital Costs, Construction: $250 Million

$250 million is a rough estimate of construction costs for the route by the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, as part of the latest 10 Year Highway Plan. This would include building roughly half a dozen stations along the route, building a second line in most areas, upgrading the existing one, rehabbing and upgrading countless rail crossings as well as reconstructing and expanding several bridges, including two across the Merrimack River. No funding source has been identified.

3)      Capital Costs, Rolling Stock: $15 Million

What good is a railway without locomotives and passenger coaches? This money would presumably come from the Federal CMAQ program. However, since CMAQ funding is a fixed amount based on the total appropriations the state receives every year, every dollar used for this project, would mean other local public transit projects might go unfunded. Under the current federal highway legislation, $15 million would represent roughly 1½ times the state’s annual CMAQ allocation.

4)      Operating Subsidies for 3 years: $5.25 Million

In addition to the capital costs of constructing the railroad and purchasing rolling stock, passenger rail will need subsidies. Every single regularly scheduled passenger route in the US relies on operating subsidies to run and New Hampshire would be no exception. Under NHDOT estimates, $5.25 Million would be needed over the course of the first three years of operation. Funding for this could also be done with federal CMAQ money.

It should be noted that these estimates do not include future capital expenses as well. While these are projections, they do give a sense of the cost of such a project. In comparison, the amount of money spent on just constructing the route ($250 million), spent elsewhere could fund the rest of the I-93 project from Exit 3 all the way up to Manchester, or it would fund all of the state’s pavement preservation and Red List Bridge needs for the next 10 years.

With more pressing transportation needs facing the state, such the maintenance and replacement of our aging infrastructure, one must ask, is passenger rail the best use of our limited resources?

Charlie Arlinghaus

September 19, 2012

As originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader

In a few weeks, Maine will finish a $44 million project to extend a money-losing commuter train and lose even more money. Fortunately, retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe got them money in the federal budget to fund their profligacy. Some politicians in New Hampshire want to follow suit and spend money we don’t have in the state budget to restore a commuter train that last operated for parts of 1980 until the federal dole ran out.

Transportation policy both at the state and national level are at a financial crossroads. We have to make difficult decisions about what we can and can’t afford. Huge debts and operating subsidies are the way of the federal government but we can and should avoid them. Trains are a great deal if someone else is paying for them. But if we have to pay for them ourselves, they are inefficient and unaffordable.

There is a distinction between highways and railways. Highways, in large part, pay for themselves through user fees. Commuter trains don’t come anywhere close to paying for themselves and are usually subsidized with highway user fees.

The most successful rail project in recent history is the Downeaster train on the Seacoast. It is also roughly a model for the commuter rail advocates want to build in the central NH corridor to Concord. Yet, the Downeaster exists only through massive capital and operating subsidies.

For the Downeaster, none of the capital costs are supported by user fees. They are entirely subsidized. Nor is the debt service calculated as part of the operating costs. For the central New Hampshire commuter rail project, the capital costs are estimated to be roughly $300 million. According to rail authority chairman Peter Burling, a partial project just going to Nashua would be about $90 million instead. Supporters want the federal government and the state to borrow the money for those costs.

Next even after a 100% subsidy of capital costs, the train won’t support itself. The tremendously successful Downeaster project recovers only about half its operating costs and relies on a government subsidy for about $7 million per year. If the capital corridor were that successful, the state would need to find $5-$10 million per year in its budget.

Keep in mind that ever dollar we spend is a dollar that isn’t available for something else whether behavioral health, hospitals which were cut in the last budget, or the university system looking for more money.

Well, since we subsidize roads, shouldn’t we subsidize trains too? The problem is we don’t subsidize roads. Roads pay for themselves in user fees – tolls, gas taxes, registrations, etc. This is not true in every state but it is true in NH.

For highways, capital costs and operating costs are both supporter by user fees. Federally and in every state, some money is diverted from user fees and some added back in. But in the aggregate, user fees support spending. For total federal and state spending, over the last ten years we’ve raised $1.08 trillion in user fees and spent $1.03 trillion. Because New Hampshire isn’t one of the states that borrows money from the general fund like New York, California, or Illinois our numbers are even better.

In most states, local road costs are less reliable. But in New Hampshire, even local roads are largely supported by user fees. In 2010, towns spend about $230 million in the category “highways and streets” while state block grants and car registration fees totaled around $230 million. Neither the measure of revenue nor spending is as precise as the state data nor are they controlled by a trust fund but you can see the number is close.

Trains are wonderful and romantic but unaffordable. We can’t borrow the money for operating costs and then just write off the debt service. From 2007 through 2011, state debt climbed precipitously from $654 million to $939 million – a 44% increase after having climbed just 8% and 4% in the two previous 4 years cycles. Simply put, we don’t have extra borrowing capacity. This isn’t Europe.

Beyond the huge startup costs, we can’t afford to keep a train running. If we had additional highway user fees would you prefer to diver $5 to $10 million to a little used train or help towns pay for more bridge repair?

Using a recently released report from the Department of Administrative Services and its own independent investigation into the data, the Josiah Bartlett Center is publishing a series of stories on its investigative journalism website,

Monday:  NH state workers drive 1.5 million personal miles a year

Tuesday: NH takes the keys from Liquor Commissioners

Wednesday: DRED Commissioner defends giving Cannon GM “Company Car”

Thursday:  NH DOT claims employees save money taking home state cars

Friday: Some NH Commissioners keep state cars, some lose them

Among the investigation’s findings:

  • New Hampshire state employees drove state-owned vehicles more than 1.5 million miles in Fiscal Year 2011, more than enough to drive around the Earth six times or to make three round-trips to the Moon.
  • 233 state-owned vehicles, or 12% of the state’s fleet, has more than 15% of their miles used for non-business use.
  • 61 state vehicles racked up more non-business miles than official miles last year, and 135 logged more than 5,000 non-business miles.
  • Several New Hampshire Commissioners used their state-owned vehicle for extensive non-business use.
  • 14 vehicles exceeding 15% non-business use were redistributed within the state fleet, while 218 were retained.
  • Allowing state employees to use state vehicles rather than reimbursing them for their official travel cost taxpayers more than $1,000 each for more than 50 vehicles.

By Grant Bosse

New Hampshire is somewhat inconsistent on which top officials drive government cars. Following a year long review on Non-Business Use of state vehicles, some Commissioners were allowed to keep taking their state vehicles home at night while other were asked to turn in their keys. Now lawmakers are looking at ways to improve management of the state’s motor vehicle fleet, and could ask state employees to reimburse taxpayers for every mile they drive off the clock.

According to a report presented to the Legislative Fiscal Committee this month by the Department of Administrative Services, 233 state vehicles accumulated more than 15% of their miles for Non-Business Use last year, totaling more than 1.5 million miles. Most of those miles were from employees in the Department of Transportation driving directly to and from job sites in the field. DOT persuaded state officials reviewing the use of state cars that letting these employees commute in state cars improved efficiency and was worth the cost in higher gas bills and automotive maintenance.

But not all those miles were from civil engineers and bridge inspectors. Several top bureaucrats also commute on the taxpayers’ dime, according to the DAS report. As we reported earlier this week, all three of New Hampshire’s Liquor Commissioners were asked to return their state vehicles after racking up significant miles outside of official business. But DRED Commissioner George Bald was allowed to keep his state car, which he drives to and from the office.

Health and Human Services Commissioner Nick Toumpas was the only employee at his Department to top 15% Non-Business Use in his vehicle. HHS has 105 cars in its fleet. According to DAS data, Toumpas drove his 2006 Chevrolet Impala 21,592 miles in Fiscal Year 2011, 10,108 of those for Non-Business Use. On August 11, 2011, Toumpas wrote a letter to DAS Commissioner Linda Hodgdon requesting a waiver to keep the car from being redistributed within the state’s fleet.

The Commissioner lives in Rye, NH. It would be inefficient to travel to Concord to obtain a state vehicle and then travel back towards Rye, for example, on state business. Further, paying the Commissioner personal mileage at the current IRS-allowed rate would be more expensive because the IRS-allowed rate ($0.555 per mile) is substantially higher than the state’s breakeven mileage ($0.33 per mile)

DAS estimates that paying Toumpas for his official travel would have cost $752 less last year than maintaining the state car. A five-member committee of state officials unanimously approved Toumpas’ request to keep his state car. But the panel rejected a similar plea from Corrections Commissioner William Wrenn.

Wrenn drove a 2007 Chevrolet Impala 26,662 miles last year, 13,162 of them off the clock. In an August 23, 2011 letter to Hodgdon, Corrections Director of Security and Training Christopher Kench requested a waiver for Wrenn.

This vehicle is used for commuting. However, much of the commuting involves directly reporting to required meetings and locations such as NH DOC prison facilities, court, Governor & Council Meetings, other State and local agencies and for emergency response capabilities as the Commissioner is on-call 24 hours a day.

The DAS report estimates that Wrenn’s use of the vehicle cost $1,314 more than reimbursement. Fish and Game Executive Director Glenn Normandeau was also asked to turn in the state-owned 2006 Chevrolet Impala that’s been driven by the last three Fish and Game heads. Normandeau put 22,405 miles on the car last year, 16,380 of which were Non-Business Use. He asked to keep the vehicle in an August 15, 2011 letter to Hodgdon.

This vehicle was purchased for, and is used as, the Executive Director’s vehicle. I am the third director to use this particular car (Director Perry & Acting Director Clark also used it) which currently has 114,000 miles. The vehicle is used only for official purposes and commuting by the Director. It carries state plates and seals. I personally care for this vehicle, including doing much of the mechanical work and maintenance in my own shop at home, recognizing it is unlikely in my tenure that I will ever see a replacement.

The Executive Director can be called or scheduled to be anywhere in the state at anytime including evenings and weekends. Having to come to Concord to pick up a vehicle in many instances would be a colossal waste of time – an hour out of my way if going north to Berlin or Lancaster. At 55.5 cents a mile the alternative of using a personal vehicle for business use will
not show any savings to Fish & Game.

DAS estimates that Normandeau’s personal miles cost $4,050 more than it would have to pay him for his official travel last year. Three of the five members of the committee considering vehicle waivers voted to deny Normandeau’s request, and the car was redistributed within the fleet.

Department of Safety Commissioner John Barthelmes got to keep his car after driving 2,217 of his 7050 miles last year for Non-Business Use. DAS estimates that allowing Barthelmes to take the car home saved the state $356 compared to reimbursing him for his on the job driving.

Legislative officials tracking state vehicle use praise the data, and Hodgdon’s efforts to compile and distribute it. Fiscal Committee Chairman Ken Weyler (R-Kingston) has been a long-time proponent of cracking down on fleet abuse. He singled out Hodgdon for praise.

“I’m very pleased. They’ve done a great job,” Weyler said.

Hodgdon thinks there is room for improvement in the system.

“I’m trying to get the right people in state vehicles,” Hodgdon tells New Hampshire Watchdog. “We should be paying mileage at $.55 per mile, but these cars are not for personal use.”

Hodgdon asked the Fiscal Committee to raise the reporting threshold for Non-Business Use from 15% to 20%. The higher trigger would have removed 43 of the 233 vehicles in the report, accounting for about 10% of the 1.5 million Non-Business Miles driven by state employees last year.

Senate President Peter Bragdon (R-Milford) was lead sponsor of SB 402, which directed Hodgdon to track state vehicle use. He’s pleased that this year’s report provides a baseline for how the state manages its fleet.

“We now have the information on the vehicles we did not have before and that provides more transparency. And now we know where the issues are,” Bragdon told the Union Leader. “I want to let the system run a little bit and then see as we go along.”

Lawmakers are already seeking reforms, including a proposal to have state employees reimburse the state for any miles they drive outside of their official duties. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Morse (R-Salem) has introduced SB 314, which would require employees to reimburse the Highway Fund $.55 cent per mile including but not limited to their commute. Such a system would have generated $827,000 last year. Weyler is a co-sponsor, and believes that asking state employees to pay back the state would decrease the number of nights they take home state cars. SB 314 will be referred to the Senate Finance Committee when the Legislature comes back into session in January.

Health and Human Services State Vehicles

Corrections State Vehicle Requests

Fish and Game State Vehicles