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February 8, 2012 | By | Posted in Governor

No guidance on transportation from Corbett’s budget address

Lawmakers say it could be the most bi-partisan issue in Harrisburg
 
By Eric Boehm | PA Independent
 
HARRISBURG — Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say funding for transportation infrastructure projects is expected to be the most bipartisan spending issue in Pennsylvania.
 
But Gov. Tom Corbett dedicated only 96 words of his 4,200-word budget address Tuesday to the issue, saying little that lawmakers could take as guidance.

 
Corbett said the transportation funding program was "too large" to be part of the budget discussion.
 
“Transportation must be confronted as its own distinct and separate topic,” Corbett said. “This problem has grown for the past several decades, and it will not be solved overnight. But, whatever solution we enact must be a lasting one.”
 
The governor repeatedly has said during his first two budget plans that he will not agree to raise taxes and will match spending with revenue levels.
 
But that hasn’t stopped groups on both the right and the left from asking him to make an exception for transportation, which is funded almost entirely with dedicated revenue streams and is not a part of the general fund budget.
 
Last summer, Corbett’s Transportation Funding Advisory Commission filed a report identifying about $2.7 billion in annual revenue for transportation, but Corbett left the report on the shelf during the fall, citing concerns about spending when the state’s economic recovery was tenuous. The commission called for uncapping a portion of the state’s gasoline tax and increasing vehicle registration and drivers’ license fees.
 
Pennsylvania has nearly 6,000 bridges in need of repair — which is more than any other state in the nation, according to the Federal Highway Administration — and more than 7,000 miles of roads in poor condition, according to the state Department of Transportation
 
Democrats criticized Corbett for failing to lay out a transportation plan.
 
“There is no way better to be able to put people back to work than to give us clear direction on how we are going to address  mass transit funding and how we are going to address roads and bridges,” Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, said.
 
State Sen. Jake Corman, R-Centre, who authored one of the transportation funding proposals in the fall after the funding commission report, said the issue could be handled later in the year, since transportation mostly is funded with dedicated streams.
 
Those funding streams include the state gasoline tax, license and registration fees, and annual $450 million payments from the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission as part of Act 44 of 2007.
 
“We could do it in February, or March. We could do it in September or October, it’s not a general fund budget issue,” Corman said.
 
Corbett's budget projects a Motor License Fund budget of $2.5 billion for next year.
 
Democrats and Republicans have supported uncapping the state's gasoline tax, which would produce about a 10-cent increase at the pump.  Pennsylvania's gasoline tax is the 14th highest in the nation, according to the Tax Foundation, a tax policy center. 
 
But lawmakers have said they are waiting for the governor to provide political cover for raising the revenue to fund transportation projects.
 
Corbett indicated he is developing a plan for transportation behind closed doors, but has given no indication of what it might be.
 
“I have spent significant time considering this issue with my transportation team and developed some workable solutions,” Corbett said. “However, those solutions will only be possible with your input, assistance and support. I look forward to working with you.”
 
State Rep. Eugene DePasquale, D-York, said the governor’s sparse details earned him “either an incomplete or an F.”
 
“It is amazing after over a year in office that the most we got out of him was three sentences,” DePasquale said. “We’ve got to do better on roads and bridges, it would be the most bipartisan issue in the Legislature and it’s a shame the governor refuses to lead on it.”
 
Corbett and Republicans want to stimulate business growth, and chambers of commerce from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh have called for transportation infrastructure to be a priority.
 
Democrats, who admonished Corbett on Tuesday to focus on “jobs and job creation,” see transportation projects as a quick way to stimulate the labor market.
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