The Word in the House 3/20/2014 - Transportation Budget

There are three bills that are must-pass in every session of the legislature: the Transportation bill, the Miscellaneous Tax bill and the Budget bill.  Because these bills deal with raising and spending money, they are constitutionally required to originate in the House.  The first of these to come up for a vote is usually the Transportation bill; and indeed, it will be voted on this week.

The Transportation bill is important because it raises the revenue and provides the state’s share of funding to maintain our highways, bridges, local roads, railways, airports, and public transportation.  This year’s $665M budget contains no new taxes, thanks to the forward thinking changes made last year to the way gasoline is taxed as well as to the aggressive pursuit of federal grants for a variety of projects.  There are $104M in one-time funds in this Transportation budget, including $15M of Federal Highway Emergency funds, $41.1M in grants and earmarks, $45M in FEMA funds and $3.6M in Emergency Relief and Assistance Funds as Vermont continues to recover from tropical storm Irene and other storm disaster events.

It is no surprise that this winter’s harsh weather, while great for the ski areas, has been tough on the road crews and the maintenance budget.  In the meantime, winter doesn’t seem to want to release its hold on us.  So, the Transportation Committee included $3M in flexibility to allow the Secretary of Transportation to transfer funds from the regular maintenance category to the winter maintenance category to cover the extra costs.  This transfer will not impact appropriations for town programs. Another supplemental appropriation of $1.6M was included for spring leveling specifically targeted to improve Class 1 Town Highways as well as other state roads. 

Alternative transportation infrastructure is also supported by the budget.  One interesting project is the Cross Vermont Trail.  This is a bike trail that is planned to span the state from East to West.  $84K has been appropriated to help secure a $1.2M federal earmark that may be in jeopardy if the project doesn’t move forward. 

    The committee was also able to find some efficiency savings by moving Vermont’s Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP) better known as “Vermont Local Roads” from its current home at Saint Michael’s College in Colchester to the Vermont Transportation Training Center (VTTC) in Berlin. LTAPs provide training and technical advice to municipal transportation employees and officials.  The committee weighed the concerns of local officials who like the level of customer service they get from the current Vermont Local Roads program against the obvious benefits of using the existing VTTC space and administration to increase programming with the same budget. This move will eliminate $80k-$90k annual charges for rent, payroll services and administration, triple the amount that can be spent on training/programming with level funding, and preserve and expand current programming for municipal road officials and employees.
Charlotte is expected to receive more than $200,000 from the state for bridge, highway and road maintenance.  State police coverage is also funded through this budget.
Let me finish by reminding you that you may be able to find a little extra money for yourself.  The State Treasurer’s Office has more than $57 million in unclaimed property.  Financial property becomes “unclaimed” after a business or non-profit entity loses contact with a customer for a period of years.  There is no charge to claim funds through the State Treasurer’s Office.  Search at or call 802-828-2407.