AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) -- Maine's motor fuel tax will remain at 30 cents per gallon under a proposed $1.1 billion budget to pay for state highways and other transportation expenses, but the plan calls for elimination of dozens of open jobs.
Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt presented the budget for the two years starting July 1 to the department's oversight committee in the Legislature on Tuesday. Bernhardt said his proposed budget would eliminate 56.5 vacant positions from the department, cap state costs for employees' health insurance and freeze merit and longevity pay for employees, to save about $1.3 million over the two years.
Bernhardt said the job eliminations, which make up about 2.6 percent of the department's workforce, are part of the agency's efficiency efforts, which have yielded "substantial" savings. Combined with positions eliminated in the previous two-year budget, the department has eliminated 110 vacant positions, the commissioner said.
But the budget does not call for an increase in the state's fuel tax, 30 cents per gallon, which provides a large chunk of the department's revenues. The highway fund budget before the Transportation Committee is separate from the state's $6.3 billion general fund budget, which was submitted by Gov. Paul LePage and is being reviewed by the Appropriations Committee.
Of the highway budget, Bernhardt said about two-thirds of the total funding goes to highway and bridge capital improvements and about a quarter to maintenance and operations, such as plowing and bridge maintenance.
The Maine State Employees Association, which represents many transportation workers, has concerns about the proposed job cutbacks and opposes the freeze on merit and longevity pay for transportation workers.
The proposed budget also includes a provision requiring cities and towns to share 2 percent of motor vehicle excise taxes they collect with the highway fund. Officials from Hermon and Lewiston said the loss of those excise taxes will place additional pressure on property taxpayers.
The budget also calls for a new program allowing bonus payments to exemplary transportation employees. The program is capped at $500,000 per year overall and $3,000 per employee.