Vermont House votes to hike heating oil tax

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) The Vermont House voted 81-60 Tuesday evening to double the tax on home heating fuels.

The money will go toward an existing state program that helps low-income Vermonters weatherize their homes.

The proposed tax increase will hit heating oil, kerosene and dyed diesel, and would double revenue from $5 million to $10 million. Gross receipts taxes on natural gas and coal will also rise.

Much of Tuesday's debate focused on the disproportionate effect the tax would have on the poor.

"It is a regressive tax. It hurts those Vermonters who are among us who perhaps struggle to make ends meet more than anybody else," said Rep. David Yacovone, D-Morrisville.

Yacovone is a longtime low-income advocate who supports weatherization. He wants the rich to pay for it but supported the bill anyway.

"Weatherizing Vermont's homes is critical. We need to do this," Yacovone said.

Rep. Cynthia Browning tried to amend the bill to make those earning the most pay for expanding the weatherization program. But Democratic House leaders used parliamentary procedures to block a vote on it.

"If you're going to adhere to progressive principals of taxation, you have to do that when it's hard, not just when it's easy," said Browning, D-Arlington.

Fuel dealers support the current fuel tax but oppose doubling it because of its impact on low-income residents.

"When you add the 4 cents per gallon plus the 1 cent pollution fee, for low-income homeowners and for renters, this is 5 cents a gallon they're gonna be paying to the state of Vermont," said Matt Cota of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association.

Meanwhile, low-income advocates like Karen Lafayette of the Vermont Low Income Advocacy Council support the tax increase. She says it will reduce heating costs and reduce emissions.

"I think that $15 a year average cost increase is a good way to do it. Traditionally, sales taxes are regressive but we think that this is minimal," Lafayette said.

Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, opposes increasing the fuel tax, and Democrats fell short of the 100 votes needed to override a potential veto, placing the future of the tax in question.