Pennsylvania lawmaker says Turnpike lease, I-80 tolls not necessary

| 5/29/2008

The top Republican in the Pennsylvania Senate says he has a transportation funding plan that would eliminate the need for tolls on Interstate 80 as well as the leasing of the Pennsylvania Turnpike to private investors.

State Sen. Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson County, said the state should transfer $255 million this fiscal year and $510 million next year out of the Motor License Fund to pay for transportation, roads and bridges.

That license fund currently pays for Pennsylvania State Police operations. Scarnati suggests the police budget be funded from the state’s general fund using a dedicated portion of the existing personal income tax.

Scarnati outlined his plan May 22 with a press release and audio clips on his Web site. Click here to read his one-page description of the overall plan.

“My plan will be able to put restrictions on the Turnpike to find further cost reduction,” Scarnati state in a sound bite on his Web site. “My plan removes the tolls off of I-80. It reduces the toll increases on the Turnpike and, most of all, brings some fiscal sanity back to how we pay for transportation now and in the future.”

Click here to hear Scarnati’s entire audio statement.

The proposal cannot advance without legislation being introduced and passed in the Pennsylvania General Assembly and signed by the governor. Lawmakers are scheduled to resume the current session on Monday, June 2.

Scarnati is urging fellow lawmakers to consider his proposal.

“With the governor’s plan to sell the Pennsylvania Turnpike getting review, this plan needs a review because I believe ultimately if we’re going to fund transportation, it’s going to be done through some tough choices,” Scarnati stated. “Tough choices don’t have to include the gas tax, nor selling the Pennsylvania Turnpike, nor tolling Interstate 80.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association applauds Scarnati’s latest approach to the issue.

“It’s a reasonable, sound approach,” OOIDA Senior Government Affairs Representative Mike Joyce told Land Line.

Gov. Ed Rendell has welcomed input into transportation issues, but he continues to say he will veto any proposal that does not meet the needs of at least $1 billion per year.

Rendell favors leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike. He announced May 19 that he had received a $12.8 billion bid from a Spanish-American consortium desiring to lease the turnpike for 75 years. Rendell is also soliciting legislative approval.

Pennsylvania’s current budgeting legislation is Act 44, signed by the governor in July 2007. It calls for increased Turnpike tolls and a plan to convert I-80 into a toll road.

Scarnati voted in favor of Act 44 at the time of its passage. He stated that input from various individuals and groups persuaded him to come up with an alternative to I-80 tolls.

“Clearly he’s heard from people who will be affected by the proposals. He’s heard the voice of the trucker,” Joyce said.

Tolling an existing interstate requires federal approval. In December 2007, officials from the Federal Highway Administration returned Pennsylvania’s I-80 toll application to state transportation officials, saying it was incomplete. The Pennsylvania officials have yet to refile it.

– By David Tanner, staff writer