Research from University of New Hampshire released last week, shows that more than 60 percent of New Hampshire residents would support an increase to the state gas tax to maintain infrastructure. But most people have no idea what the gas tax is now.
Larry Hamilton is one of the researchers and a professor of sociology at UNH. Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with him about the report.
What is the current gas tax? Since most of the people you talked to had no idea.
Well if you combine the state and federal gas tax, it's a bit over 40 cents on a gallon of unleaded gas.
And most of the people you talked to said they would support maybe a 10 cent increase to accomplish you know maintaining some infrastructure?
Yeah. We asked a survey question where we said: would you support a gas tax increase of x cents per gallon if needed to support maintaining highways and bridges? And we got pretty good support, 60 plus percent for a 5 cent or a 10 cent increase and then it tailed off after that.
You also looked at how people responded according to the political party affiliations didn't you?
Well the gist of it is that Democrats or Independents were most supportive of an increase gas tax, and all this is predicated on if necessary to maintain New Hampshire highways and bridges. So Democrats and Independents would support an increase of up to 20 cents or perhaps more, and Republicans something like 10 cents or more. And Tea Party supporters really wouldn't support any gas tax increase.
Probably no real surprises there I guess. But you know, less than 40 percent of people you talked with even knew about some of the worsening conditions with New Hampshire infrastructure, which I found surprising. What do you think is keeping people out of that loop?
Well one thing that our research highlights is how much need for public awareness or information there is. I think people's willingness to see a need for infrastructure maintenance is related to their willingness to pay taxes for it. The people who don't want to pay taxes are also people who are more likely to say that conditions are the same or better. And I think the causality may run in reverse, that they have a view of taxes and that informs whether they see a problem or not.
So the takeaway here is that one can inform the other, but maybe not in the right way.
Yeah that ideology structures perceptions of reality.
But it's just surprising to me that somewhere around 60 percent of the people you surveyed weren't even aware, or at least not admitting they were aware of the problem.
Yes, that's right. There's a bunch of who thought it was about the same. And some people even thought that conditions were better than they were 10 or 20 years ago, which is not the data we have. There's a wonderful report card put out by a group called the American Society for Civil Engineers. Anybody can look this up online and see how they break down each category of New Hampshire transportation infrastructure and graded it on an A-F scale. Overall, a lot of our infrastructure was built quite a while ago—bridges before the 1980s. And they have an unexpected lifespan of something on the order of 50 years. So a lot of sort of maintenance bills are coming past due in the near future.