Tight deadlines forced Vermont legislators to focus under tragedy's dark cloud Tuesday. Lawmakers are flexibly targeting May 11 for the final day of the year. But for those working on the transportation budget, delay beyond May 1 could be very costly.
"Time is running out on that," said Rep. Patrick Brennan, R-Colchester.
If a bill isn't law by May 1, higher taxes at the pump won't kick in until July. And state budget experts say the missed revenue would add up to $1.5 million in a tough budget year.
Earlier this year, Brennan and his House Transportation Committee spent weeks crafting a budget. Now members are reacquainting themselves with the Senate's current draft.
"I just think it's going to see us back here in two years looking at the whole scenario ago," Brennan said.
Both bills would raise the gas tax by lowering the flat tax and adding a small sales tax in order to secure matching dollars from the federal government. The Senate's version promises lower rates, but raises less. It also relies more on federal bonds, taps into the diesel market and does not automatically adjust for inflation.
"I'm very confident the bill we put out will serve the purpose of the next two years," said Sen. Dick Mazza, D-Grand Isle County.
Senate Transportation chairman Mazza says he prefers reviewing the taxes again in two years over automatic hikes. He says he doesn't believe the road to compromise is as bumpy as his peers in the House report.
"I predict that we should be able to resolve our differences in a week," Mazza said.
The bill hasn't reached the Senate floor yet, but he says it has the momentum to pass, reach conference committee and receive the governor's signature before May 2. The House is already making contingency plans.
Though Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont, has opposed any broad-based tax hikes, he has supported upping the gas tax.