Every time you fill up at the pump in Vermont, nearly 40 cents per gallon gets siphoned off. The state pulls 20 cents into its coffers and about 18 cents flow into a federal pool. The two sources account for all but 2 percent of the state's approximately half-a-billion dollar transportation budget.
Vt. Transportation Agency Secretary Brian Searles says the funding formula needs to change.
"This is a classic good news, bad news situation," Searles said.
Since 2004, drivers now cover less mileage in more fuel-efficient cars, but gas taxes no longer bring in enough money. Vermont is projected to run a $240 million deficit over the next five years.
"We just don't have the capacity to handle this on our own," Searles said.
Searles says Vermont can delay repairs or even close roadways, but he says the problem is systemic, structural, and sustained, and federal reform is the only path to a long-term fix.
Steve Jeffrey, a spokesperson for the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, has less faith in Washington, D.C.
"Not only because of the current stalemate, but the fact that there has not been the interest in Congress to raise the gas tax since 1993," Jeffrey said.
Vt. Senate Transportation Committee chairman Dick Mazza says this year he expects the shortfall to be between $20 million and $30 million. He says the Legislature will likely find a short-term patch at the state level, through shifts in gas tax calculation or bonds.
"We must address this problem and working together, I think we can come out of this," said Mazza, D-Grand Isle County.
State and federal leaders are also considering a system where drivers are taxed by miles driven, rather than gas consumed. However, even proponents say that solution is at least a decade down the road.
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