House Committee considers gas-guzzling surcharge

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(Host) The House Transportation Committee is considering a fee on gas-guzzling vehicles to fill a shortfall in the state’s public transportation budget.

Lawmakers see the surcharge as a way to help the environment and to replace the state’s aging bus fleet.

But the car industry and Governor Douglas are fighting the proposal.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) House Transportation Committee Richard Westman says the state is falling behind in funding transportation on a number of fronts.

The need for highway and bridge repair is outpacing the revenue available. And he says the 12 public transit systems don’t have enough money to replace their aging buses.

(Westman) “What that will mean is that they’re going to have a lot more upkeep on a much older fleet that’s going to affect them in their operating budget to a huge degree.”

(Dillon) So Westman, a Republican from Cambridge, and other members of his committee, are looking for new revenue.

They say a $150 surcharge on new vehicles that get less than 20 miles to the gallon could raise about $1.5 million dollars.

(Westman) “You know, I’m coming to the place where I absolutely need money. I think we need to make some hard choices.”

(Dillon) Lawmakers say a surcharge on gas guzzlers makes sense, because it combines the environmental benefits of funding public transit while discouraging use of low mileage vehicles.

But the auto industry says the legislation could hurt consumers, by making the cars that families need more expensive. Charles Territo represents the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. He spoke to the committee by phone from Washington.

(Territo) “Gas guzzler taxes are added costs with no benefits and really they’ll affect small businesses and large families.”

(Dillon) Governor Jim Douglas added his voice to the opposition as well.

(Douglas) This is a tax that punishes families who need mini vans and similar vehicles to transport their children to and from hockey practice and music lessons.

(Dillon) Representative Sue Minter is a Democrat from Waterbury says consumers would still have a choice.

(Minter) “Consumers can choose to buy a mini-van that gets less than 20 miles per gallon and pay an extra charge, or they can choose a mini van that gets higher than 20 miles per gallon. They have that choice.”

(Dillon) The bill may also require labels on cars about how much carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases the vehicle produces.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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