Senate transportation plan faces opposition

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(Host) A Senate plan to pay for new transportation projects without raising the gas tax is facing some opposition in the House. Opponents of the Senate plan say it uses unsustainable funding sources and only delays an inevitable gas tax increase.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Since the House passed its transportation bill last month, the average price for gas has increased more than 30 cents a gallon. This reality is not lost on many members of the Senate in an election year.

Several key Senate committees have given their approval to a plan to raise $25 million in state funds to match $100 million in new federal money. The proposal increases transportation related fees by $11 million. It cuts transportation programs by $4 million, and it includes a $7 million package of one-time surplus funds from various state programs. It doesn’t include the four-cent gas tax increased that passed the House.

Senate Transportation chairman Dick Mazza:

(Mazza) “This is no time to make a bad decision worse. Anything we add to one of the highest gas prices in years is bad for Vermonters and the economy in general.”

(Kinzel) The Douglas administration supports the plan, but Transportation Secretary Dawn Terrill admits it may be a one-year fix:

(Terrill) “We support it, frankly, because it does get the job done we need to do this year and it doesn’t raise an unnecessary tax this year will we have to have revenue discussions in the future we may it will depend on the performance of the Transportation Fund.”

(Kinzel) House Transportation Chairman Richard Westman is disappointed with the Senate approach. He says the program cuts in the Senate bill will hurt state paving efforts and will level fund local road budgets. Westman says the gas tax increase is the best sustainable funding source he could find, but he’s willing to look at others:

(Westman) “If you don’t have some forward thinking we’re in trouble. Need should be a part of what we’re doing in this and the need in transportation right now is great so what I most object to is the fact this is cobbled together with not a very long-term look at the transportation need.”

(Kinzel) The full Senate is expected to consider the Transportation bill in about a week.

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

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