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State Urges Congress To Pass Short Term Highway Bill

Toby Talbot
A road work sign sits along Route 2 in East Montpelier, Wednesday, March 21, 2012.

Vermont transportation officials say the state’s ambitious summer highway construction schedule will remain on track as long as Congress passes a short term funding bill in the coming weeks.

For the past few months, Democratic leaders in the Senate and Republican leaders in the House, have disagreed on how to finance a new six year transportation bill. The total price tag for the legislation is roughly $250 billion.

If Congress fails to pass a bill by the middle of July, funding for thousands of individual state projects will face significant cutbacks this summer.

Because of this pressure, Congressman Peter Welch says it’s likely that Congress will pass a short term bill that authorizes spending until the end of the fiscal year at the end of September.

“Congress has nothing to be proud of if it’s just quote a short term fix. I mean that avoids the short term disaster and that’s probably the best that this Congress can do,” said Welch. “But you know our potholes are not going to fix themselves and we need to provide some certainty to our transportation agencies in our states that are working hard to try to cobble together safe roads and bridges.”

"We are full steam into our construction season throughout Vermont," Deputy Transportation Secretary Sue Minter on the need for Congress to pass a new highway budget bill in the next few weeks

While a bipartisan group of Senators is backing an increase in the federal gas tax to pay for the transportation bill, House Republican leaders want to make additional budget cuts.

Welch says these GOP leaders are waiting until next year to pass a long term bill because they believe they’ll control the Senate after the November elections.

“Frankly I think that’s a bad idea because obviously all of us Republicans and Democrats have an obligation to maintain our infrastructure,” said Welch. “There are potholes in Vermont, there’s potholes in Texas, so we should be working together regardless of who’s in the majority.”

Sue Minter is Vermont’s Deputy Transportation Secretary. She says a short term solution will be very helpful.

“We are full steam into our construction season throughout Vermont, I’m sure Vermonters are seeing many projects on the road,” said Minter. “And we were worried about if Congress hadn’t addressed this cash flow problem whether we would actually have to delay future projects."

But Minter says it’s critical for Congress to develop a long term plan and she thinks the proposal needs to move away from using the gas tax as a primary funding source.

“When we look out to the future with increased automobile efficiency, the gas tax really isn’t the long term answer and we hope that Congress will begin to grapple with these long term  funding sources because each state is in this problem but so is the federal government.”

Congress is expected to consider the short term transportation funding bill when it returns to Washington after the Fourth of July recess.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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