Officials upset over proposed 10% cut in local highway aid

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According to the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, higher property taxes or delayed road projects will be the result of a decision to cut funding for local highways and bridges.

But the Douglas Administration says it’s just trying to prioritize the state’s overall transportation needs in a difficult budget year.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel has more.

(Kinzel) Local officials are upset because the governor has proposed a 10 % cut in overall local highway aid – this includes spending on bridges, road maintenance and paving programs.

Steve Jeffrey is the executive director of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. He says the Douglas Administration is putting local taxpayers across the state in a very tough position:

(Jeffrey) "It means that local citizens at March Town Meeting are going to have to make a very difficult decision. They only have two options: They either raise local property taxes to fill that gap or they defer to another year the addressing of this backlog."

(Kinzel) Jeffrey says it’s critical for lawmakers to consider new ways to enhance state transportation revenues so that key projects can be addressed in a timely way – otherwise Jeffrey says the cost of these projects will skyrocket:

(Jeffrey) "Given our current revenue structure the gap between what we need to do and what we’re able to do every year is going to grow wider and wider. And we believe that it’s time to look at something other than raising local property taxes to start addressing this backlog in our transportation infrastructure needs."

(Kinzel) Transportation Secretary Neal Lunderville says his agency is trying to maximize the use of federal funds in this budget and he says most transportation programs are being asked to do more with less money:

(Lunderville) "This budget as I’m sure if you look across all of state government we see that the sacrifice is being shared broadly. We’ve done our best in this budget to protect town programs knowing that the municipalities face some unique cost pressures and we want to make sure that we’re not pushing these problems downward. At the same time we need to balance the needs of the transportation network across the entire state."

(Kinzel) The biggest local cuts are in the town bridge program – spending is down 20% for these projects.

Lunderville says that’s because his agency has determined that a number of state bridges are in worse shape that many town bridges. In another year he says the situation could be reversed.

(Lunderville) "When a Vermonter drives over a bridge they’re not stopping to ask is this a state bridge or a town bridge. They want to know that that bridge is safe and reliable and they can depend on it 24 / 7, and as a state agency of transportation that’s what we strive to do."

(Kinzel) Lunderville says he opposes efforts to raise the state gasoline tax to provide additional funds for transportation projects because he believes that additional savings can be found by streamlining some of the operations of his agency.

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

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