Pennsylvania governor drops lease effort; seeks other funding solutions

| 6/26/2007

In hopes of spurring an agreement in the Pennsylvania House and Senate on a new state budget, Gov. Ed Rendell made three concessions this week.

The Democratic governor dropped his pursuit to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike, impose a tax on oil company profits and increase the state sales tax by 1 percent. Rendell said he is hopeful the changes will speed efforts to reach a compromise in the statehouse on a new budget for the fiscal year that starts Sunday, July 1.

The governor is calling on the Legislature to approve at least $1 billion this coming fiscal year for highway funding and new mass transit.

Early this year, Rendell revealed plans to pursue privatization of the 530-mile turnpike. He said a lease deal could net the state $965 million a year for roads and bridges.

That plan won few supporters among lawmakers. Among those opposed were many House Democrats who a week ago released their alternative to eat into the state’s $1.7-billion-a-year transportation shortfall. Their plan includes raising fees and fuel taxes, adding tolls on Interstate 80, as well as borrowing against future toll increases on the turnpike.

Democrats say their plan could raise $1.8 billion by 2012.

Two House Republicans have called for adding tolls on all the state’s major interstates. Reps. Scott Petri of New Hope and Doug Reichley of Emmaus want to place tolls on Interstates 78, 79, 80, 81 and 95 during the next several years to eventually generate $800 million annually. The revenue would be earmarked for road and bridge work and mass transit systems.

Petri said he is hopeful the tolls could be structured to force trucks and other travelers to foot most of the bill, The Patriot News reported.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor