Vermont gets grant offer for passing seat belt law

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(Host) Federal Highway Safety officials are offering the state of Vermont a one-time grant of nearly 4 million dollars if lawmakers pass a primary seat belt law.

The head of the Senate Transportation committee says it’s unlikely that the Legislature will take the offer.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) As lawmakers struggle to raise roughly 25 million dollars in new state revenue to match over 100 million dollars in new federal transportation money, an interesting proposal has emerged.

Last year’s federal transportation law dramatically increased funding for individual states and it also offered financial incentives to states that pass a primary seatbelt law.

Vermont has a secondary law which means it’s against the law not to wear a seat belt but a police officer cannot pull a driver over just for that infraction – there has to be a primary reason.

Mike Harrington is the external affairs director at the Federal Highway Transportation Safety Institute.

He says his group is prepared to send Vermont 3.7 million dollars if lawmakers pass a primary enforcement seatbelt law this session:

(Harrington) “This is not a sanction this is encouragement there’s a pot of money for the states if a state wants to avail itself by passing a primary law it immediately qualifies for the money and the money can be used for any highway safety purpose.”

(Kinzel) Triple AAA of Northern New England strongly supports the plan and they’ve taken out newspaper ads to urge lawmakers to pass the seat belt bill. Triple AAA spokesperson Tom Williams:

(Williams) “They need 24 million dollars immediately and this represents close to 16% of that 24 million they claim to need immediately.”

(Kinzel) Senate Transportation chairman Dick Mazza says the issue isn’t this simple. He says the federal money can be used only for safety related programs and won’t help the state with its current financial pressures:

(Mazza) “It’s a one time money it can be used for safety purposes safety related issues with AOT so every time you receive money from the feds there are a lot of strings attached.”

(Kinzel) Mazza’s committee is trying to put together a financing package that doesn’t require a gas tax increase. He thinks it can be done:

(Mazza) “I am quite confident that we will not have a gas tax increase or a diesel tax increase at this time. I think the fees will not be much greater than the governor had recommended in the first place. I think we’ve asked the Agency to look at different scenarios of where we can save some money. I think we’re going to look at some of our own Transportation funds that we have available that are being used for other purposes.

(Kinzel) The Senate Transportation committee is expected to finalize its funding plan by the end of the week.

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

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