Confronted with a mounting backlog of road repairs, lawmakers in Maine have renewed their efforts to boost fuel taxes to alleviate some of the funding crisis.
Less than a month after the Maine Legislature opted against raising the state’s fuel tax by 5 cents per gallon, the Transportation Committee gathered to hold the first of two summer meetings to look for ways to pay for hundreds of miles of paving, patching and repairs needed on state-maintained roads.
As a result, the highway budget approved by lawmakers includes enough money for maintenance paving on 230 miles of roads for the current fiscal year, which started July 1, but nothing for next year.
Among the long-term options to draw consideration during the first meeting this summer is using more bonds, routing more money back to the DOT, reducing the number of roads maintained by the state and once again looking into increasing fuel taxes.
Currently, the state’s per gallon tax on diesel is 30.7 cents, and 29.5 cents for gas. It is estimated that every penny increase generates $7.2 million in revenue for the state.
Advocates for the higher tax rates say they would ease a 23 percent drop in fuel tax revenues. Others say that despite the aid of federal stimulus funds being applied to road and bridge work, the gap between available funds and the cost of projects will only expand.
Opponents say that with the poor economy, now is not the time to increase the burden on consumers.
The transportation panel is expected to discuss specific solutions at its next meeting, which is scheduled for Aug. 11. If lawmakers can reach agreement on a proposal, it could be ready for consideration by the House and Senate if a special session is held this fall.
To view other legislative activities of interest for Maine in 2009, click here.
– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor
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