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Regular averaging $3.70/gal in Mass.


College launching gap year program

MEDFORD, Mass. — A new Tufts University program hopes to remove the financial barriers keeping cash-strapped students from taking a year off after high school to travel or volunteer, offering an opportunity to explore different communities before starting college.

This “gap year” program launching this fall will pay for housing, airfare and even visa fees, which can add up to $30,000 or more.

Students selected for Tufts’ 4+1 program can defer their admission for a year while remaining tied to the university through video chat and email. Tufts will work with volunteer organizations to create packages that fit students’ financial needs.

Holly Bull, president of the Center of Interim Programs, says students are able to see the world beyond the bubble they grew up in and get a better perspective of their future.

Money would go to repairing roads; Senate committee approves hike 

CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire’s gas tax could be on the rise. A 4 cent increase per gallon could take effect this summer.

Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Ways and Means Committee approved the increase Tuesday.

Department of Transportation officials said 51 miles of state roads slip from what it deems fair condition to poor condition every year and the funding is badly needed. Opponents said increasing the gas tax will hurt more than it helps.

The state’s gas tax has held steady at 18 cents per gallon for a long time.

“We had a 4-1 vote, which I think was important, and it’s necessary because of the condition of the roads and bridges and infrastructure in the state of New Hampshire,” said Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester.

The increase would start in July and bring in an added $32 million a year to pay for road repairs.

“We need our infrastructure. It’s important for our citizens and important for our business community,” said Sen. Jim Rausch, R-Derry. “So, this was my effort to have a reasonable increase to partially restore what we’ve lost over time.”

Rausch said he hoped to boost transportation funding through expanded gambling, but increasing the gas tax was Plan B.

“I think you have to do the math, and I keep saying if you drive 10,000 miles and you get 25 miles to the gallon, it’ll cost you $16 a year,” Rausch said. “You hit a pothole, it’s going to cost you a lot more than $16 to fix a tire, a rim, shock absorbers, etc.”

The lone vote against the increase came from Senate President Chuck Morse.

“This tax will not produce what people think it will produce to fix roads in the state of New Hampshire,” said Morse, a Republican.

Morse said he is worried about people who pay the gas tax.

Lauren Gagne of Concord said the more she drives, the less she likes the idea of more expensive fuel.

“Now, I travel to Manchester because most of my family’s there and I’m helping my grandmother,” Gagne said. “So, I have to travel there a lot and there’s the tolls, and there’s this stuff.”

Others said the tax would be just a drop in their tank.

“I think it’s a small price to pay for roads that work and jobs for people,” said Dan Berry of Concord.

Given the Republican sponsors with their names already on the bill, it would appear it has the votes to pass the Senate, but there are no guarantees. Gov. Maggie Hassan has indicated if the bill has bipartisan support, she will sign it.

By Andy Metzger, State House News Service

EVERETT, Mass. — Tasked with developing a portion of its own revenue, the state Department of Transportation is closing in on plans to raise Registry of Motor Vehicle fees, in addition to the previously announced 5 percent increase in MBTA fares.

Registrar of Motor Vehicles Celia Blue told the News Service the RMV has still not yet determined the size of the fee increase and will make a presentation to the state Transportation Board on March 19.

State Department of Transportation officials in late January described Registry fees as “the only viable revenue source” to close a projected $55 million budget gap for fiscal 2015. The Registry collected $550 million in revenue in 2013, including $134 million in motor vehicle inspection fees.

Registration fees, title certificates and driver’s license fees are other top revenue generators at the RMV.

At a budget hearing Tuesday, Transportation Secretary Richard Davey laid out efficiencies through telecommunications and bridge-building technology and plans to team up with New England states for the purchase of salt and tires and move 4,000 employees off the debt-funded capital plan.

The transportation chief who helped the unsuccessful push for Gov. Deval Patrick’s larger tax package last year also discussed the fiscal constraints the department faces and the potential monetary blow if a ballot referendum passes, repealing the law that indexes future gas tax increases to inflation.

“Toll revenue cannot be used to meet our obligation to pay for transportation staff on the operating budget. Therefore, the one revenue source we can and we will turn to is registry fees,” Davey said.

He also said, “The repeal of the gas tax indexing will result in a loss of an estimated $2 billion in capacity for projects over the next decade. This will be a significant cut to an already underfunded long-term transportation program.”

Tens of thousands of registered voters have signed petitions to put a gas tax indexing repeal measure on the November ballot, arguing against automatic tax triggers and asserting that lawmakers should have to vote each time the gas tax is raised.

The July 2013 tax law required MassDOT to fund a portion of its budget through its own revenues and savings. Davey said Patrick’s fiscal year 2015 budget increases transportation funding by $141 million, including $55 million from MassDOT revenues, allowing the state to move employees from the capital budget to the operating budget.

Rep. Geoff Diehl, a Whitman Republican who has been outspoken in favor of repealing the gas tax indexing, said he would “avoid” talking about that when Davey appeared before the House and Senate Ways and Means committees at Everett High School.

“I’m happy to debate you any time on the gas tax,” Davey said.

While Diehl did not respond at the hearing, he reacted swiftly to a News Service tweet reporting on Davey’s challenge. “Equally happy to debate the Secretary on taxation without representation, anytime,” Diehl tweeted.

Davey said MassDOT has been in discussion with other New England states about jointly purchasing salt and tires, and he said the Public Private Partnership Commission, which was established by a 2009 transportation reform law, held its first meeting last May.

“Currently, the commission is studying the possibility of a third, tolled bridge over the Cape Cod Canal, the construction of ‘managed lanes’ on Route 3 South and enhancements to state-owned real estate parcels such as rest stops adjacent to state highways,” Davey said.

The state faces a potential funding shortfall, as the Federal Highway Trust Fund is scheduled to go into deficiency in August, Davey said. If that happens, he said, “We’ll be cutting projects throughout the state.”

Davey also said the MBTA, which powers trains with electricity, has undertaken energy efficiency projects over the last four years that have reduced annual consumption by 8.8 million kilowatt hours and saved $1.75 million.

Construction projects have been handled more quickly by closing down facilities – such as the Callahan Tunnel – providing incentives and penalties for on-time completion, and completing much of the construction work off-site on bridge projects.

“We are finishing projects in days, not years,” said Davey, who asked the Legislature to grant MassDOT the ability to reimburse utilities for their costs on a broader array of projects.