A controversial gas tax is moving forward at the Vt. Statehouse. While some Republicans may not like it, they appear to be along for the ride.
The bill passed out of the Transportation Committee with unanimous support from Republicans and Democrats. It would add a 2 percent sales tax to the price of gas before state and federal gas taxes are added on. The change would take effect in May. Resulting in a total 6.8-cent per gallon state tax at the pump. By July of next year, the sales tax would increase from 2 percent to 4 percent. But the existing fixed-tax will be lowered, resulting in an overall state gas tax of around 7.7 cents per gallon.
It's expected to raise an additional estimated $26 million by 2015 to pay for badly needed road and infrastructure repairs.
Republican Committee Chair Pat Brennan thanked fellow committee members for sticking their necks out on the issue.
"It's kind of an insurance policy that insures us that we won't have to be back here in another three to four years looking for another gas tax increase," said Rep. Brennan, R-Colchester.
Gas tax revenues have slumped in recent years as Vermonters have reduced their miles traveled and turned to more fuel-efficient cars. The deficit also jeopardizes millions in federal matching highway funds.
Many lawmakers say the public understands the problem.
"There's an emotional reaction to a tax and particularly a gas tax. And I think that if people actually think about what their money is paying for, it's not just a general tax going into the general fund, it's specifically for infrastructure," said Rep. Mollie Burke, P/D-Brattleboro.
But the gas tax is strongly opposed by fuel dealers who have an online petition that now has more than 10,000 signatures.
"I think it's going to have-- for our industry anyway-- some serious ramifications along the New Hampshire and Massachusetts border. It's just too great of a difference between the two states," said Joe Choquette of the Vermont Petroleum Association.
Brennan says they looked at toll roads and a variety of other options.
"Believe me, we've been around the full circle and come back to the gas tax every time," Brennan said.
Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont, has indicated he supports the measure, calling it not a new tax, but rather repairing an old one.
The full House is expected to take up the gas tax next week. Republican supporters say they still have to do some arm twisting of their Senate colleagues, but they say that in the end, it is the least distasteful revenue option.