Federal Cuts Will Impact State Transportation Projects

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(Host) Governor Howard Dean says some of the state’s largest highway construction projects may have to be re-evaluated because it is likely that there will be significant cuts in federal transportation funds next year.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The Bush administration dropped a bombshell on individual states this week when it announced plans to cut more than $9 billion in local highway funds. The administration says the cuts are the result of slumping federal gasoline tax revenues. It has no plans to recommend any additional money for these programs because of concerns about the growing federal budget deficit.

Governor Howard Dean says the transportation cuts would be a disaster for Vermont and the Governor say the lack of money for these programs is the direct result of the President’s tax cut plan:

(Dean) “This is the promise coming home to roost. Oh sure, we’ll cut your taxes, we’ll do everything else. Well now local people are going to see their road projects cut out because of the $1.35 trillion dollar tax cut that we could not afford. It’s just that simple. It’s exactly what happens when you make promises like this and then you can’t keep them.”

(Kinzel) The state currently has a number of big projects that are largely funded through federal revenues: The Circumferential Highway, the Bennington Bypass, reconstruction of Route 7 and Route 9 and the Mississiquoi bridge.

Dean says these projects will have to be reviewed if Congress does not act to overturn the Bush budget cuts:

(Dean) “I think that one of two things is going to happen: Either they actually will follow through with the cuts in which case we are going to have to take some big project offline, or the Congress under enormous pressure from every governor in this country, regardless of party, will rethink this. And that’s of course what I am hoping will happen.”

(Kinzel) Senate Transportation Chairman Dick Mazza says the potential loss of federal funds will cause his committee to conduct a compete review of all major federal highway projects in the state:

(Mazza) “It does put a new twist in the budget process and we certainly would have to sit back and evaluate. Right now, the Bennington Bypass is a big part of our budget, a lot of money. They started construction a year ago. We certainly would have to take a look at those projects.”

(Kinzel) Mazza notes that the governor has proposed a reduction in local highway spending in next year’s budget plan; last year some one-time surplus funds were allocated to this program. Mazza says it may be necessary for the Legislature to raise new revenue, including a possible increase in the state gas tax, to help restore money to these programs:

(Mazza) “No one wants to raise fees. No one wants to raise the gas tax. We’re looking at our revenue source and we do want to maintain our paving program as best we can and our bridges repairs and our highway infrastructure, but to do that we’ll just evaluate what our revenues are.”

(Kinzel) The Legislature is expected to consider several plans to raise the state gas tax this session. At the moment these proposals range from 3 to 6 cents of additional tax.

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

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