The New Hampshire House of Representatives has approved a bill that would let the state’s Department of Environmental Services raise or establish at least 20 fees for excavating and dredging in wetland areas and more than double the amount of revenue the agency receives.
Proponents for House Bill 682, which passed by a 201-147 vote on Thursday, said that the increases were necessary because of the thousands of permits DES handles and because legislation passed last year required the department to shorten the time it takes to process those requests.
None of that mattered to state Rep. Andrew Renzullo, who objected to both the fee increases and the provisions that allow the DES Commissioner Robert Scott to set the rates. It was enough to stir the “sixties radical roots” of the Hillsborough Republican.
The current fee structure allows DES to take in nearly $1.9 million in revenue. The new fees and increases would generate about $3 million in additional funding, almost a 160 percent hike.
Renzullo said the commissioner told lawmakers the new funding would not go toward hiring new staff.
“If you’re doing a good job, and you have the resources in place to continue doing a good job, why do you need to [nearly] triple your fee revenue? What is wrong with this picture?”
Starting in July 2022, the DES commissioner would have the ability to review fees for such permits as dock repairs and seasonal dock installations. Renzullo said that goes against the democratic process, fearing the legislature would not have sufficient oversight on the matter.
“This is not a trivial matter, but it strikes at our responsibility as legislators,” he said. “This state was founded by people shouting ‘No taxation without representation,’ and a willingness to fight for it.”
State Rep. Suzanne Smith, D-Grafton, said a legislative review committee would still have oversight and can raise objections to any increases DES proposes.
DES currently receives less than 10 percent of its revenue from state funds and must account for the rest of its budget through permit revenues, Smith added.
“Inadequate fees mean inadequate review of projects, delays or denials of permit applications and possible loss of streamlining permits with federal agencies,” she said.
Further, the House Resources, Recreation and Development Committee heard from the industries that would be affected by the new and increased fees. None from those businesses stood in opposition to the bill, Smith said.
After Thursday’s House vote, the bill was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee for a second review.