House Gives Final Approval To Gas Tax

By John Dillon

The House has given final approval to legislation that makes major changes to how the state taxes gasoline sales.

The bill adds a 2 percent sales tax in addition to a tax on per gallon sales. That amounts to about an 8 percent tax increase. In 2014, the sales tax would be increased from 2 to 4 percent while the per gallon tax is reduced by 6 cents.

Backers of the bill say the changes were needed because gas sales have dropped over the years as people have shifted to more fuel-efficient vehicles.

The House approval came after lengthy debate over the practice of diverting Transportation Fund dollars to non-transportation programs. Rep. Thomas Koch, R-Barre Town, offered an amendment that would reduce annual transfers to the Department of Public Safety, which includes the state police. Koch says his move would “purify” the Transportation Fund.

“There is either a will in this building to purify the funds, or there is not. This amendment provides a way to do it. It gets the job done, gradually over a period of time in a responsible manner,” he said.

Opponents of Koch’s amendment said the state has made progress in reducing the Transportation Fund transfers. Rep. Pat Brennan, R-Colchester, chairs the Transportation Committee. He said the bill cuts the transfer to Public Safety from $25.4 million to $20 million.

“I’m going to go back in time and tell you that at one point it was $44 million,” he said. “That was a raid on the Transportation Fund… I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

Koch’s amendment was defeated 88-49. The gas tax bill now moves to the Senate.