Senators and representatives say the problem is clear. Gas taxes are bringing in less now that Vermonters drive less in more fuel efficient vehicles. The result: not enough money to care for the Green Mountain State's roads and bridges.
"I'd love to find a way to get rid of the second $0.02 on diesel," said Sen. Peg Flory, R-Rutland County.
The Senate Finance Committee spent Tuesday reviewing a compromise proposal from its sister committee in the House. The revenue comes mostly from gas, but also includes registrations, bonds, diesel and other sources. The House's original proposal raises the bulk of new revenue by decreasing the flat tax, but adding a sales tax and linking the rates to inflation. The proposal would raise almost $100 million over the next three years.
The Senate put forward a similar proposal, which limits the gas hike by tapping diesel more, but ignores inflation and raises less over time.
The compromise proposal narrows the gap, but not enough for legislators who thought they sealed the deal when they left Friday.
"I don't think we like it," said Sen. Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia County.
"No, it's much different than I thought," said Sen. Dick Mazza, D-Grand Isle County.
House Transportation Chairman Patrick Brennan says he's concerned that a short-term fix will eat up time session after session.
"I appreciate dropping the cent per gallon as you did in yours, but I think it's only like a two-year fix," said Brennan, R-Colchester.
But senators argue that because tax revenue projections are based in part on gas price projections, it doesn't make sense to worry about multiple years down the road.
"I don't know what to predict," Mazza said.
"I think we may have to sit down in conference committee," Brennan said. "I just don't feel we're going to get anywhere spinning our wheels."
Putting together a committee of representatives and senators to hash out the issue would cost the state more time. If legislators idle beyond May 1, between $1.6 million and $1.9 million of new taxes dollars could go out the window.
Some lawmakers say they're tempted to let transportation dollars run on empty for a while, but that would mean the loss of more than $35 million in federal matching grants.
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