Paying for Vermont's roads and bridges

Vermonts last gas tax increase came with the infamous Act 60 of 1997, which raised the tax from 16 to 20 cents a gallon. In 2006 the House narrowly approved a four cents per gallon increase, but the Senate scrapped the tax in favor of increased registration and license fees. (A legislator can vote to increase fees without being found guilty of raising taxes.)

Speaker Gaye Symington supports a gas tax increase, but Gov.. Douglas strongly opposes it, as does Senate Transportation chair Dick Mazza. Sen. President Peter Shumlin, who spent the 2007 session desperately looking for taxes to raise to fund a program to explain to Vermonters that they can save money by using less heating fuel, has not yet taken a position.

Some in the legislature want to impose a gas guzzler tax on low mileage vehicles (notably vans and SUVs) and use the proceeds to give incentives for high mileage vehicles (hybrids and mini-cars). In Congress Sen. Bernie Sanders is demanding higher Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards. Both of these ideas will reduce motor fuel tax revenues to zero, in the case of electric, natural gas, and hydrogen powered vehicles.

One step toward resolving this emerging problem is to reverse the diversion of $27 million a year in vehicle purchase and use tax revenues into the Education Fund. Many of the legislators who shouted down Gov.. Douglass proposal to do this in 2006 then cheerfully voted to authorize public schools to dip into the Education Fund for more than twice as much money, to finance two grades of universal preschool.

Another useful step would be to relax foolish environmental rules that drive up the costs of reconstructing existing bridges. Another would be to abandon the dream of subsidized passenger rail service remember Gov.. Deans $28 million Champlain Flyer?

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