Vermont lawmakers debate taxes for transportation funding

| 4/24/2006

Vermont lawmakers from the state’s House and Senate began negotiations last week to figure out how to pay for road and bridge work in the state.

Debate in a conference committee will focus on whether taxes should be increased to help pay for transportation projects and secure federal funding.

The Democratic-led House approved a transportation budget that included a 6-cent increase in the state’s per gallon diesel tax, which would raise it to 31 cents. The tax on gasoline would increase 4 cents to 24 cents.

Republican Gov. James Douglas and senators, however, are against increasing fuel taxes. Instead, they want to raise $11.8 million from motor vehicle fees, postpone $4 million in project costs and tap other general accounts for $7 million, the Burlington Free Press reported.

The House plan also includes an increase in the motor vehicle fees that would generate $5.8 million.

Officials with AAA of Northern New England have an idea they hope will help. Tom Williams, a spokesperson for the advocacy group, said the state could qualify for $3.7 million in federal funding for safety improvements if it adopts a primary seat-belt rule, the Rutland Herald reported. But legislative leaders have been cool to that idea.

The problem for lawmakers is figuring out how to compensate for declining revenues from the existing fuel taxes that have the state’s Transportation Agency short of money. If a solution can be found, the state would stand to claim $300 million during the next five years that Congress appropriated for Vermont under the condition the state pay its share of projects, up to 20 percent of the overall cost.

The budget bill is H869.