House committee wants to force Douglas administration to borrow for roads

03/25/08 5:57PM By John Dillon
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(Host) The House Transportation Committee is frustrated by the worsening condition of the state's roads and highways.

So the committee has taken the unusual step of trying to force the Douglas Administration to borrow money to pay for the needed repairs.

VPR's John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) All winter the Transportation Committee has looked at the widening gap between the cost of road repair and the money available to pay for it.

It's a funding shortfall that the Legislature's Joint Fiscal Office now says is around $200 million.

So the committee wants the state to consider issuing bonds to cover some of the costs of fixing roads and bridges.

Sue Minter is a Democrat from Waterbury.

(Minter) ``We know that you can sell a bond - a 30-year bond through the municipal bond market - for 5.5 percent interest rates. At the same time, year after year, the cost of construction inflation is increasing by 20 percent. So in our view it makes sense to borrow the money. Get the job done as quickly as possible and save those costs to the taxpayers later on.

(Dillon) Minter proposed an amendment to the giant transportation bill that directs the state treasurer to look at funding options. A special panel would then vote on a bonding proposal. If that panel approves the borrowing, the bill says the governor shall include the bonding plan in next year's budget.

But it's that word "shall" that has the Douglas Administration concerned.

Transportation Secretary Neale Lunderville says the bill may violate the separation of powers between the Legislature and the executive branch.

(Lunderville) ``The governor proposes a budget. The Legislature works on that budget and ultimately through the legislative process they achieve an end to that. Something that is binding for the governor is clearly a separation of power issue that the Legislature will have to look pretty hard at before they're willing to pass.''

(Dillon) The bonding amendment passed on a lopsided vote, with Committee Chairman Richard Westman voting against it.

(Westman) ``You know, I've seen Legislatures try this before and it usually fails. But I can understand the frustration in the committee.''

(Dillon) The committee made many other changes to the administration's proposed $409 million transportation budget. It cut some programs and added money for town road and bridge projects.

For VPR News, I'm John Dillon in Montpelier.



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