By Melissa Daniels | PA Independent
HARRISBURG — The latest proposal to fund repairs to Pennsylvania’s aging roads and bridges could mean steeper costs for all drivers, especially those with a lead foot.
Sen. John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, unveiled his proposal for $2.5 billion worth of transportation funding Tuesday.
The plan uncaps the oil-franchise tax, which is paid on the wholesale price of gasoline, to raise about $1.6 billion, and brings in millions more by increasing Pennsylvania Department of Transportation fees and a new surcharge on top of traffic tickets.
“If we want to be competitive and we want to move the state forward, we have to do something in the way of transportation funding,” Rafferty said, flanked by dozens of senators, House members, private-sector business leaders and union representatives. “A core function of state government is providing safe roads and bridges for the citizenry.”
For the better part of two years, Pennsylvania state lawmakers have debated how to pull together money to repair nearly 4,400 structurally deficient bridges and more than 10,000 miles of dilapidated state roads. Gov. Tom Corbett made headway earlier this year when he announced a plan for a $1.8 billion in annual revenue from uncapping the oil franchise tax.
Now, Rafferty’s plan proposes spending more by getting money directly from the pockets of drivers.
According to PennDOT estimates, the financial impact on the average Pennsylvania driver comes out to about $2.50 a week by the third year, considering fee increases and at-the-pump gas prices.
“The people that may experience some increase because of our adjusting these fees are the same people who are going to be using the roads and bridges at this time,” Rafferty said.
License fees would increase from $29.50 every four years to $50.50 every six years. Registration fees would rise from $36 annually to $102 every two years. Right now, Pennsylvania has the 18th lowest license fees in the country, and 10th lowest registration fees, Rafferty said.
Rafferty’s plan adds a $100 fee to all moving traffic violations, like running a red light or getting a speeding ticket, on top of whatever fine the ticket already carries. This would raise an estimate $75 million next year, and $100 million five years out.
“There’s a message there,” Rafferty said, when asked about the fee.
The proposal also would increase a citation fee from $25 to a range of $100 to $300 for drivers who negotiate fines for certain violations instead of losing points off their license. That would raise an estimated $25.5 million annually.
Rafferty’s proposal also would raise all other PennDOT fees to adjust for inflation. Some of those fees, Rafferty said, haven’t been addressed since the 1970s or 1980s and do not take into account inflation or PennDOT’s actual costs. Those increases would earn the state more than $219 million within five years.
The proposal suggests about $1.9 billion in spending on highway and bridge repairs. About $510 million would be budgeted for the state’s 36 public transit systems, and the remainder would go to funding for railroads, ports, airports and bicycle and pedestrian programs.
Though the plan includes fees not included in Corbett’s original proposal, Secretary of Transportation Barry Schoch said the Senate bill is a beginning point for debate and discussion.
“The governor and I have always said we’re open to dialogue about the scope and size and magnitude of the project,” he said. “Obviously there are balances between the costs to consumers and the benefits.”
Corbett, speaking with reporters on a conference call while in Chile on a trade mission, said he would not comment on the details of the plan, but added he is “very careful” about what would happen to the taxpayers of Pennsylvania.
“This is just the beginning, this is nowhere near the end,” Corbett said.
Rafferty said he hopes lawmakers can get a plan on Corbett’s desk by June. If so, PennDOT could add more construction projects to its fall schedule, Schoch said, and add more than $2 billion worth of construction projects starting next year.
Rafferty’s plan has won endorsement from all transportation chairmen in the General Assembly, including Sen. John Wozniak, D-Cambria; Rep. Dick Hess, R-Bedford, and Rep. Mike McGeehan, D-Philadelphia.
Wozniak said increasing taxes on gas and drivers fees is no easy political feat, and it will require bipartisan support. He also said consumers concerned about the cost increases should take a look at their discretionary income, and the costs of other amenities.
“What is important to you, a safe modern highway system, or a bottle of beer?” Wozniak asked.
Contact Melissa Daniels at email@example.com