House approves gas tax increase

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(Host) After another full day of debate, the Vermont House has given its final approval to legislation raising the gas tax by four cents a gallon and the diesel tax by six cents a gallon. The vote on the bill was 91 to 49.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The late afternoon vote capped two days of vigorous debate over the future of the gas tax. Supporters of the bill say the tax hike is needed to help provide part of the $25 million that the state needs to take full advantage of more than $100 million in new federal transportation funds.

Opponents argued that budget cuts and higher transportation fees were a better way to meet the state’s share of the funds. Rutland Representative Steve Howard said the bill was needed to ensure that key highway projects are completed in a timely manner:

(Howard) “This budget provides the leadership that people in my district expect, the honesty that they expect. It provides the projects they support, funding for those projects.”

(Kinzel) Transportation Chairman Richard Westman said it was critical to pass this bill:

(Westman) “As chair of the transportation committee and representing our committee and I think the whole feeling of our whole committee, we need to say that don’t blame us when there’s a disaster. And I hate to sound like Chicken Little because I don’t think of myself as that and I don’t think our committee is, but we we’re in a place where we have to make some hard choices.”

(Kinzel) But Swanton Representative Kathy LaVoie said the tax increase would have a negative impact on the state’s dairy farmers:

(LaVoie) “I don’t expect you to be swayed alone just due to the farming community, but I certainly would hope in the state of Vermont that you would hold the community in high regard enough to think about the true impact the, direct line impact that that has, that an increase such as this has on our farming and agricultural communities and all related businesses.”

(Kinzel) House minority leader Peg Flory urged her colleagues to raise the new money by cutting the state budget instead of increasing the gas tax:

(Flory) “Unless we’re willing to cut our own budgets and feel that pinch, I cannot go back and tell my constituents, sorry folks you’re going to get the projects but you’re going to have to figure how to come up with the additional gas tax.”

(Kinzel) The measure now goes to the Senate for its consideration. Senate leaders say they’re hoping to design a funding package that doesn’t include a gas tax increase.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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