Vermont bills address road funding, safety

| 11/10/2009

Once lawmakers in Vermont convene the 2010 regular session, they will get busy addressing a variety issues. Not only will legislators be introducing a flurry of new bills, but they can also bring back for consideration legislation that was left hanging from this past year.

Among the bills of interest to truckers that are likely to get attention are efforts to boost transportation funding, lower the speed limit, and increase safety on roadways.

Confronted with dwindling fuel tax revenues as people are buying less fuel and driving more fuel-efficient vehicles, officials at the state and federal levels are looking into other options to bolster sluggish transportation funding accounts. Vermont is included in this pursuit.

Rep. Sue Minter, D-Waterbury, is the sponsor of a growingly popular revenue enhancer option that could get increased attention during the coming year. H399 calls for pursuit of establishing a vehicle-miles-traveled fee, or VMT fee, on all motor vehicles. The fee would be 6 cents per mile traveled.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association says that while the VMT is drawing a lot of attention at the federal and state levels of government as a possible solution to the transportation funding crisis, it remains unproven. OOIDA executives believe more study is needed.

The Association feels there are many unanswered questions with a proposed VMT, especially considering that the federal bill does not call for a removal of a fuel tax if established. The current system of levying federal taxes on truckers is already discriminatory and harmful. OOIDA also has concerns about how the information gathered will be used, who will have access to it, if it will be shared and with whom.

In addition to her VMT bill, Minter also has pursued an effort to give people some help at fuel pump. H284 would apply a 3 percent surcharge of the wholesale price of gas and diesel purchased or used in the state when the price is below $3.50 per gallon.

Another bill is intended to give a shot in the arm to the state’s struggling transportation fund. Sponsored by Rep. Janice Peaslee, R-Guildhall, H395 would remove purchase and use tax revenues as a funding source for the education fund, and deposit the entire amount into the transportation fund.

A separate measure to boost road funding options is from Sen. Richard Sears, D-North Bennington. S4 would authorize the state treasurer to issue Grant Anticipated Revenue Vehicle bonds, or GARVEE bonds, for transportation projects of $10 million or more.

The funding program allows states to borrow money against the annual federal transportation funding designated to pay for construction. The sale is based on the assumption that federal funding in future years would pay off the bonds. This allows states to get money needed up front.

Other items that could come up for consideration during the next year address issues that are intended to improve safety on roadways. Rep. Kristy Spengler, D-Colchester, appears to think that can be accomplished by slowing traffic on interstates. H398 would reduce the maximum speed limit to 55 mph.

Another bill – H198 – would require drivers to flip on their headlights whenever the windshield wipers are in use.

One more bill would prohibit drivers from using cell phones. Exceptions would be made for emergencies.

Under H277, violations would be a secondary offense. First offenders would face $25 fines. Repeat offenders would face $50 fines. Subsequent offenses would result in $100 fines.

The bills were left in committees when the regular session ended. They can be considered once the 2010 session convenes in early January.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Vermont in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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