The Transportation Committee is discussing some legislative language to create a Transportation Funding Study Committee to investigate new sources of revenue to sustain the state’s transportation infrastructure. While vehicle miles traveled have increased, fuel efficiency has improved. Annual gas and diesel taxes to fund the infrastructure have remained flat, partly due to the fact that these taxes are a fixed cent per gallon or fixed fee per transaction. Beyond the scope of highway improvement, if the goal of the State is to reduce greenhouse gases, where does the revenue come from to transition to better rail or public transit.
The same week that the Transportation Committee was engaged in debate on the composition of such a study committee and its focus, the Legislative Climate Caucus, co-chaired by Rep. Chris Pearson and Rep. Margaret Cheney, invited Professor Gary Flomenhoft of the UVM Gund Institute to speak about environmental economics and specifically tax policy that taxes pollution and gives tax breaks to environmentally beneficial or neutral activities. He cited examples of the hefty gas tax citizens pay in Germany which is offset by reductions in payroll and other taxes which reduce the cost of the gas tax to consumers. It’s an intriguing idea which would be hard to sell to a traveling public unused to paying the real costs of driving petroleum based automobiles. The kind of research undertaken by the Gund Institute offers possibilities of fostering unpopular but environmentally sound ideas because of their economic viability. It will be interesting to see if the Transportation Funding Study Committee can explore and endorse these new types of funding mechanisms in order to move towards a more balanced, well-financed, multi-modal transportation system.