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June 13, 2013 | By | Posted in Legislature

PA transportation chair: Remove $100 ticket surcharge from funding package

By Eric Boehm | PA Independent

HARRISBURG – Drivers caught speeding or found guilty of other traffic offenses would be on the hook for an extra $100 per ticket, if a transportation funding proposal under consideration in the state House becomes law.

But the head of the committee that has to sign off on the proposal said he wants to take that new fee out of the proposal.

TOO MUCH: State Rep. Dick Hess, R-Bedford, says the $100 surcharge on traffic tickets is too much.

“I think it should be out,” said state Rep. Dick Hess, R-Bedford, on Wednesday following the first House hearing on the transportation plan. “I think, personally, it’s a little too much.”

Speeding drivers might thank Hess and other lawmakers on both sides of the House aisle who appear skeptical about passing the surcharge as part of the funding package. But mass transit agencies want to see the $100 add-on included in the bill if it makes it to Gov. Tom Corbett’s desk.

That’s because the estimated $100 million in annual revenue from the new surcharge would be directed entirely to help subsidize the state’s mass transit agencies.

Overall, the Senate-passed transportation initiative would generate $2.5 billion over the next five years by hiking vehicle registration and drivers’ license fees while uncapping a portion of the state taxes levied on gasoline.

Mass transit would get about $510 million of that total. Removing the ticket surcharge would drop that total to $410 million.

State Rep. Michael McGeehan, D-Philadelphia, minority chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said there has to be a “fallback plan” to fund mass transit if the surcharge gets stripped out of the bill.

“If it comes out, that’s a huge gap and we have to find an alternative,” McGeehan said.

Under state law, dollars in the motor license fund may not be used for mass transit.

As a result, the state subsidizes mass transit with a patchwork quilt of funding mechanisms – like a small percentage of the state sales tax, for example.  Advocates of mass transit have long sought after a more stable and dedicated – not to mention less confusing – funding stream.

The new surcharge would add to that mixed bag of funding mechanisms.

And it would be a steep price for drivers. A citation for running a red light, for example, would nearly double to $212 with the added cost.

It’s only one part of a complicated plan that could be changed on multiple levels before it gets a final vote in the House.

Secretary of Transportation Barry Schoch said Wednesday the surcharge was negotiable, like all other parts of the proposal.  Corbett is willing to consider the Senate’s $2.5 billion spending plan, he said.

There have been concerns about the ticket surcharge from police departments, as well.  Last week, Pittsburgh police commander Scott Schubert, who oversees the bureau’s traffic division, predicted police, including him, might issue fewer citations if the surcharge was in place.

Schubert told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that citations should be issued as warnings and used to improve highway safety, not as a way to make money for the state.

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Eric Boehm is a reporter for PA Independent. He can be reached at Eric@PAIndependent.com or at (717) 350-0963.

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