Maine transportation panel puts off decision on road funds

| 8/21/2009

Lawmakers in Maine put off any decision on how to trim a mounting backlog of road repairs until the regular session convenes in January.

The Legislature’s Transportation Committee met twice this summer to look for ways to pay for 600 miles of paving, patching and repairs needed on state-maintained roads. This year, Maine has $8 million to do work on about 250 miles of road.

The panel was asked by the full Legislature to come up with recommendations for how to come up with the $25 million a year needed to get all the work done. Lawmakers considered increasing the state’s fuel tax, adding a penny to the sales tax, raising license and registration fees, and tapping funds intended for bridge repairs and other transportation needs.

By the time they had wrapped up their work the committee failed to reach consensus on a plan. As a result, they adjourned without making a recommendation.

Consideration of a fuel tax increase drew the most attention from lawmakers. While many lawmakers appeared to favor an increase, they weren’t able to reach agreement on an amount.

This spring, the committee considered an 11-cent increase in the fuel tax spread out over four years. The panel opted for a nickel increase to be phased in over two years but the full Legislature voted it down.

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.

Among the tax increase proposals offered this summer was a 3-cent boost, which would be teamed with pulling money from other programs.

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 with the poor economy, now is not the time to increase the burden on consumers. Another option mentioned is to make sure the Maine Department of Transportation improves how they spend money.

Possible funding methods can be considered once the new session opens Jan. 6.

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

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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