By Eric Boehm | PA Independent
HARRISBURG – An overwhelming percentage of Pennsylvania residents are likely to support an upcoming proposal from Gov. Tom Corbett to invest in the state’s roads and bridges.
But most of them would rather see someone else pay for it.
According to a pair of surveys completed by AAA Mid-Atlantic last year, 88 percent of Pennsylvanians believe the state’s highways need work. After months of behind-the-scenes planning, Corbett is preparing to announce a $2 billion transportation funding package aimed at doing exactly that, according to an Associated Press report Wednesday.
But the AAA survey reveals something about government services: Everyone wants things to be better; no one wants to pay for it.
Less than half of those surveyed by AAA – 44 percent – said they would be willing to pay an extra $2.50 per week to improve the state’s transportation infrastructure.
Jenny Robinson, spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said most people would like better government services without having to pay for them.
“You could conduct a poll on any government funding topic and get that same answer,” she said. “The reality is that Pennsylvania’s roads and bridges are crumbling, and the fix won’t be cheap.”
The AAA survey found 62 percent of Pennsylvanians opposed to an increase in the gasoline tax, 67 percent opposed to a new fee on the number of miles driven and 66 percent opposed to an increase in the state sales tax earmarked for transportation purposes.
Less than a majority – 49 percent – of Pennsylvanians were opposed to tolling existing highways, while 35 percent supported the idea. The remainder were undecided.
And 85 percent of those surveyed said they opposed the use of gas taxes and vehicle registration fees for non-highway purposes – like helping to subsidize mass transit.
The surveys found that women and those from households with a median annual income of more than $75,000 were more likely to support paying more for infrastructure improvements.
The details of Corbett’s proposal remain unknown for now, but a commission appointed by the governor in 2011 to determine the most effective way of increasing funding for highways, bridges and mass transit recommended an increase to a portion of the state’s gasoline tax and increases in fees for things like drivers’ licenses and vehicle registrations.
The commission estimated that their recommendations would cost the average driver in the Keystone State about $2.54 per week by the fifth year of the incremental increases. That works out to about $132 per year.
State Sen. John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said lawmakers will deal with the dilemma of what residents want after Corbett makes his proposal public.
“We’re going to do our best to make sure that we are cognizant of the fact that we don’t want to put more of a burden on the taxpayers in this economy,” Rafferty said Thursday.
He said he has not seen a plan from Corbett but expects an official announcement soon.
Rick Geist, a former state representative who runs a transportation consulting firm, said lawmakers should be upfront with their constituents about the costs involved in maintaining and rebuilding the state’s infrastructure.
He applauded Corbett for taking the reins on the issue and said he expected bipartisan support.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have pressured Corbett to act on his transportation commission’s proposal.
The Associated Press on Wednesday, citing unnamed sources, said Corbett’s plan would include an uncapping of the state’s oil franchise tax – which accounts for about 20 cents of the 39 cents in state taxes on each gallon of gasoline purchased in Pennsylvania.
The oil franchise tax is only applied to the first $1.25 per gallon of gas at the wholesale level. The governor’s advisory commission on transportation estimated that applying the tax to the full price per gallon would raise the price of gas by about 10 cents.
Corbett had discussed that idea with reporters in November but remained uncommitted to it at that time.
On Thursday, Corbett disputed parts of the AP report but declined to give specifics.
“I’m not wild about anonymous people, frankly,” Corbett said. “When we are ready to come out and present our plan, we will.”
Pennsylvania’s gasoline taxes are the 7th highest in the nation, according to The Tax Foundation, a Washington D.C. tax policy think tank.
The state would rank fifth in the nation if the gasoline tax increased by an estimated 10 cents.