The U.S. House of Representatives approved $11 billion in funding for the Highway Trust Fund last week. The Senate is expected to take up proposals to shore up the fund soon, then the two bodies will need to come to an agreement before the August recess.
If the fund is not replenished, Vermont would be faced with putting 38 projects worth about $100 million on hold indefinitely. Current projects would be delayed because the federal government would stall reimbursements. About 1,000 workers in Vermont would be affected by the shortfall.
The House proposal relies on a complicated, indirect source of revenue for the fund, that fails to generate enough money to keep the fund solvent. The fund would go bankrupt in April or May of next year.
Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., was one of 10 Democrats in the House of Representatives who voted against the "pension-smoothing" plan that will generate temporary corporate revenues for national road maintenance and construction. Forty-five Republicans also voted against the bill.
Welch said at a press conference in Waterbury last week that the Republicans' plan is a "very temporary quote fix" and would come from a dubious source that would allow corporations to reduce the amount of money they pay into employee pension funds. As the theory goes, corporations would make more profits as a result, which would in turn create a bump in corporate tax revenues, which would be earmarked for the Highway Trust Fund.
The plan is not sustainable, Welch says, and it would hurt workers.
Welch said he would vote for a hike in the national gas tax, which has not been increased since 1993. The current per gallon tax is 18.4 cents.