Five cent gas tax moves forward in the House

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(Host) The House has given preliminary approval to a $120 million bond package that will help pay for road and bridge repair.

The bond would be paid with a five-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase. The vote on the bill was 106 to 40.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Transportation Chairman Rich Westman told his colleagues that Vermont’s transportation infrastructure is at a critical point, and if repairs aren’t made now, the state will face hundreds of millions of dollars in additional costs during the next decade.

Westman pointed to a report from the Agency of Transportation that says that 36 percent of all Vermont’s roads are in very poor condition.

Westman wanted House members to understand what this definition means.

(Westman) "Significant cracks may cause potholes and or rutting pulling at the vehicle, and roughness is uncomfortable to occupants. Drivers may need to correct to avoid road defects. This is from the Agency itself."

(Kinzel) The state is expected to receive roughly $125 million in transportation funds over the next two years as part of the federal stimulus package.  But Westman says virtually all of that money has to be spent on state projects, and he says the bond package is needed, in part, to help repair dozens of local projects.

(Westman) "We’re very, well, we’re somewhat cautiously optimistic that maybe we’ve turned a corner and maybe we can get at some of the issues in this that are important, particularly the bridge area. And with the stimulus money, maybe we can arrest some of the paving. We have some overwhelming problems within this."

(Kinzel) Not all members supported raising the gas tax.  Londonderry Representative Rick Hube argued this isn’t the time to increase tax burdens on Vermonters.

(Hube) "I’m not sure we’d being having this conversation if we had more fiscal discipline, were able to make tough decisions, and do what I think my people voted for me, sent me here to do. … We have a tendency to balkanize tax policy. We have a tendency not to look at the overall picture."

(Kinzel) Waterbury Representative Sue Minter supported the gas tax increase because she said it’s important for the state to address its critical transportation needs at this time.

(Minter) "I vote yes to ensure we fulfill our obligation to fix our transportation infrastructure and create jobs and not allow the problems to get worse or expensive to fix and leave yet another unsolvable problem for the next generation."

(Kinzel) The measure will come up for final approval in the House on Wednesday.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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