Burke seeks fourth term in House


BRATTLEBORO -- In her six years in the Legislature, state Rep. Mollie Burke's name has become synonymous with transportation.

While that's far from the only issue she's been involved with, The Brattleboro Progressive Democrat's time on the House Transportation Committee has made her a point person locally on topics including paving, safety and even carbon emissions.

As Burke seeks a fourth term in the House, she says transportation funding will continue to be a major issue at the state and federal level as lawmakers try to balance the critical need for maintenance and upgrades with the public's disdain for new or increased taxes.

"People feel that they have this God-given right to have good roads, but they don't want to pay for them," Burke said.

Burke will appear as a Democrat in Brattleboro's District 2 in the Aug. 26 primary election. She has no opposition.

Burke also has sought and received the endorsement of the Progressive Party for the general election. She has used both affiliations during her time in the House.

From the beginning, Burke said, "I wanted to be able to represent both and felt aligned with both."

But she also believes that many differences between political parties are academic and, at the local level, political affiliation is "in the background."

Burke is more interested in talking about transportation. She said her work in that arena has included "a wide range of items, from mastering the details of highway sand and salt appropriations, to discussing and approving statewide infrastructure projects, to crafting policies to get Vermonters moving around the state safely and efficiently, whatever their mode of travel."

Burke also has advocated for Brattleboro's transportation needs, most-recently in the successful effort to secure funding to repave badly deteriorated Western Avenue.

She lists her involvement in several other transportation-related issues, including:

-- Burke was a lead sponsor of a bill to protect bicyclists, pedestrians and others by mandating that drivers allow more clearance when passing.

-- She also was a sponsor of a bill that "required all state and municipal transportation projects to take into consideration the needs of all users of the transportation system and to adapt infrastructure to reflect this."

The idea is that "we're not just paving a road for cars," Burke said. "It really sort of goes along with new thinking in transportation about safe streets, multiuse streets and livable cities and towns."

-- Burke serves on the statewide Public Transit Advisory Council, which works to improve public transportation both within urbanized areas and regionally.

-- She was involved with developing legislation giving a driving-privilege card to international migrant workers on Vermont farms.

-- With curbing carbon emissions now part of her committee's job description, Burke in 2014 sponsored a bill that limits gasoline-engine idling and requires that school driving instructors instruct students on "no-idling" practices.

-- Burke also supports increasing the available infrastructure for electric cars.

Those last two issues, however, also point to an ongoing debate in Montpelier: With gas-tax revenues declining due to people driving less and buying more fuel-efficient cars, where does the state find viable alternatives for transportation funding?

For Burke, the answer may lie in a state levy based on odometer readings rather than gas gauges -- though many details, including privacy concerns, would have to be worked out.

"That's a big question," Burke said of the transportation-funding dilemma. "I think, at some point, we're going to have to consider a vehicle-miles-traveled tax."

Beyond transportation, Burke said she is interested in economic-development issues. She was a sponsor of the Working Lands bill, which has spawned a popular grant program for agricultural and forestry-related businesses.

Burke said she also is a member of the Women's Legislative Caucus and has been involved in planning a September conference "that will address the issue of women in Vermont's correctional system and will explore ways to prevent and reduce incarceration for nonviolent offenders."

In Brattleboro, Burke is founder and director of Art in the Neighborhood, which offers tuition-free art classes to kids in low-income housing communities.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.


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