State Senate seeks solution to avoid gas tax hike

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(Host) The Senate Transportation Committee is searching for ways to avoid increasing the state gas tax as part of an overall plan to take full advantage of new federal transportation money. As VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, there are a variety of options under consideration.

(Kinzel) The state needs to raise an additional $25 million if it wants to be able to match more than $100 million in new federal transportation funds.

Earlier this month, the House passed a bill increasing a number of transportation-related fees and it raised the gas tax by 4-cents a gallon and the diesel tax by 6-cents.

The governor supports the fee increases, but opposes the gas tax hike. Douglas says some budget cuts could make up for the remaining money, but he hasn’t been very specific about what programs would be cut.

Washington senator Phil Scott is the vice chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. He says his panel is philosophically opposed to raising the gas tax. He says the Transportation Fund currently contributes $39 million a year to the budget for the state police. He questions if this is fair:

(Scott) “Anytime I’m talking with anybody, I want them to understand that, in reality, the Transportation Fund is fine. It’s maybe other areas of government that rely on the Transportation Fund that might need some help. So within our committee we’re dealing with that.”

(Kinzel) Scott says his committee will recommend ways to increase money for the General Fund if it proposes a smaller transfer from the Transportation Fund for public safety programs.

(Scott) “But we know, in reality, we need public safety and we need to be aware that we have to backfill whatever we take out of public safety or state police in other ways.”

(Kinzel) Scott says his committee is also looking at the option of raising more money through motor vehicle fees.

(Scott) “We’re looking at, within the fee structure, there may be some areas that should be looked at in different ways. There may be some registrations that are not paying their fair share. So we’re looking at that.”

(Kinzel) Scott says it’s also appropriate to look at the state’s schedule for upcoming road and bridge projects to see if some of these projects can be delayed for a short period of time.

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

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