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Vermont Transportation Secretary Intrigued By A 'Vehicle Miles Traveled' Tax

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Elaine Thompson
/
AP
Work continues on a bridge in Washington in February. With revenues from the federal gas tax falling short, Vermont Transportation Secretary Sue Minter is watching as states such as Washington experiment with a "vehicle miles traveled" tax.

Transportation Secretary Sue Minter says the current stalemate in Congress over a long term transportation bill clearly shows that the country needs to reduce its reliance on gasoline taxes. She says a plan that taxes motorists based on the number of miles they drive their car deserves serious study.

Congress hasn't passed a long term transportation funding bill in over six years. During this time period, it has passed 33 short term extensions including one that will expire at the end of July.

The stability of the Transportation Fund is in doubt because the current 18-cent federal gas tax no longer covers the full cost of financing thousands of transportation projects across the country.

If Congress fails to address this issue in the next six weeks, individual states won't be reimbursed for the federal share of these projects. In Vermont that amounts to roughly $6 million a week.

Minter says her agency has a contingency plan in place just in case the Congressional stalemate continues in the early fall.

"We will not phase things down. We are going to continue moving ahead with our construction program paying our contractors,” Minter says. “What would happen is the state treasury would be responsible for that cash flow. Again, with the assumption that Congress will eventually take action."

Minter says revenue from the federal per-gallon gas tax is no longer a stable source of money because many cars are much more fuel efficient.

"In the long run, our gas tax is not a sustainable funding source. And Congress really does need to think about different ways of raising revenues for transportation investments that we so sorely need to keep our economy moving." - Vermont Transportation Secretary Sue Minter

“In the long run, our gas tax is not a sustainable funding source. And Congress really does need to think about different ways of raising revenues for transportation investments that we so sorely need to keep our economy moving,” Minter says.

Minter says she's keeping a close watch on pilot programs being implemented in Oregon and the state of Washington, that tax people on the number of miles that they drive instead of using a per gallon gas tax.

"Some people are advocating that this is a way to go, since so many of our vehicles of the future are not going to depend on fuel,” Minter says.

This year's transportation bill calls on the Shumlin administration to study various funding options to Vermont's gas tax. Minter says her report will include an evaluation of the benefits and problems with the "vehicle miles traveled" tax experiment in Oregon and Washington.

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