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Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

Lawmakers Put Gas Tax Bill On Fast Track

Legislative leaders have put a bill raising the gas tax on a fast track for passage because they want the legislation to go into effect on May 1.

There’s little doubt that lawmakers are going to increase the state gas tax this year, the question is by how much.

Because gas sales have fallen by 30 million gallons in the last 7 years, both the House and Senate want to shift away from the current per gallon tax and towards a sales tax on the price of gas.  Each chamber is seeking the equivalent of roughly an 8 cent increase in the tax.

Senate Transportation chairman Dick Mazza says the additional revenue is needed to allow the state to take full advantage of $56 million in matching federal highway funds.

“Let’s face it - the last thing any of us want to do is raise the gas tax or diesel tax . That’s the lowest on our list,” said Mazza. “But when you look at realistically the progress we’ve made in our transportation infrastructure improvements and you look at the less uses of gasoline and diesel fuel we don’t want to leave federal money on the table and we can’t afford to.”

There are two major differences between the approach taken by the House and the one being considered in the Senate.

The House included a provision in their bill that links the sales tax on gas to the rate of inflation. Transportation chairman Pat Brennan says the inflation adjuster is a good way to put transportation funding on a long term, stable path.

“I do feel strongly about because I think it takes care of us in the out years, it helps give us, I call it an insurance policy going forward,” said Brennan. “It helps us fill the gaps in transportation that come about as a result of inflation.”

But Senate Transportation chairman Mazza strongly opposes this part of the House bill.

“I think the Legislature ought to be accountable and it if needs adjusting in 3 or 4 years come back and tell the voters where you are,” said Mazza. “So CPI to me is a bad idea.”

The House and Senate also disagree on the future of the diesel tax. The House didn’t include an increase in this tax in their plan but the Senate wants to raise the tax by four cents over a two year period.

House chairman Brennan says he’s willing to look at a smaller diesel tax increase because the state needs to match all available federal funds.

“It behooves us to match any federal dollars put on the table,” said Brennan. “We certainly have the need there’s no doubt that the need is out there.”

Both Brennan and Mazza say they want to settle their differences in the next week, so that the bill can go into effect on May 1.