Treasurer proposes new gas tax

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(Host) Vermont Treasurer Jeb Spaulding is proposing a new tax on motor fuels to pay for bridge repairs.

In a report to the Legislature, Spaulding says the bridges are getting worse – and the state doesn’t have the money to fix them.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) The Legislature asked the treasurer to look at news ways to pay for bridge projects around Vermont. He first started with the bad news.

The report notes that the condition of Vermont bridges places the state eighth from the bottom of all 50 states.

(Spaulding) It’s clear to everybody that we’re going backwards in terms of trying to deal with our decaying bridges in Vermont.

(Dillon) Spaulding says it’s also obvious that the state is trying to fix a growing problem with less money. The Transportation Fund – which gets money from the gas tax – declined 6% this year.

(Spaulding) "The thought that we could borrow our way or bond out of this situation without any additional revenues is wishful thinking."

(Dillon) So the treasurer says the state should use revenue bonds to ramp up bridge repair. Revenue bonds require a dedicated funding source to pay them back. He’s proposing $150 to $180 million dollars in new bonds over 10 years.

And Spaulding says the debt could be paid off through a 5 cent per gallon tax on diesel and gasoline sales. The tax would be assessed on distributors of motor fuels – the same way the gas tax is collected now. He says the tax would raise about $20 million a year.

Governor Jim Douglas has opposed a gas tax, and lambasted Democrats in the recent campaign for proposing one. John Zicconi is a spokesman for the Transportation Agency.

(Zicconi) "The governor has made his preference known that he does not support a gas tax, for the reasons that it’s a regressive tax. It hits low income Vermonters who have to travel large distances to get to work and families who have to have larger vehicles than others, it hits them disproportionately hard."

(Dillon) But Spaulding says the public is ready for a frank discussion on how much work is needed, and how to pay for it.

(Spaulding) "Vermonters I think can understand that there is no free lunch out there, and by continuing to let our bridges deteriorate somebody’s going to be paying more. And that will be them and their children. In the meantime, those projects are going to get more expensive to take care of later. And if we could put an assessment on distributors of fuel oil, we can address this situation in a timely manner and we’ll save people money."

(Dillon) According to Spaulding, this is a good time for the state to borrow money because interest rates are low. He says the state may also get a better deal on the repair work because the economic slowdown has left construction companies hungry for work.

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

AP Photo/Toby Talbot


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