Pennsylvania House reverses field, passes roads plan

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 11/20/2013

The Pennsylvania House voted Tuesday, Nov. 19, to approve a $2.3 billion transportation spending plan one day after the chamber rejected it.

On a 104-95 vote, House lawmakers agreed to raise billions of dollars for roads, bridges and transit through tax and fee increases. One day earlier, a 103-98 vote against the bill threatened to derail any funding solution for the foreseeable future.

Transportation funding is one of the top priorities of Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration. State lawmakers have spent much of the year discussing how to address a $3.5 billion shortfall.

On Monday, Corbett held a rally at the Capitol calling for lawmakers to move the bill forward. One day later he was looking ahead.

“Voting for a comprehensive transportation plan will keep our transportation system safe and efficient, improve the state’s economy, and improve the quality of life,” Corbett said in a news release.

The House-approved plan would raise about $2.3 billion, mostly through changes to how the state’s collects fuel tax.

The main part of the proposal would remove the state’s 12-cent-per-gallon flat tax on fuel and replace it by lifting the cap on the oil company franchise tax.

Uncapping the franchise tax could increase the per-gallon tax on fuel more than 28 cents over five years because the oil companies are expected to pass along much of the increase to consumers.

Since 1983, the tax is applied only to the first $1.25 per gallon of the wholesale price.

Eliminating the cap on fuel prices now exceeding $3 per gallon would go a long way to help the state raise about $1.8 billion annually for roads and bridges once the cap is completely lifted. About $500 million would be applied to other modes of transportation.

Vehicle fees and fines would also be increased over the next five years. Specifically for trucks with a registered gross weight of 80,000 pounds, the fee will climb from $1,687.50 to $1,827 in the first year. Increases of $139 would be implemented during each of the next three years to top out at $2,244 by fiscal year 2017-2018.

Some House Republicans opposed plans to raise taxes.

“Pennsylvanians simply cannot afford to continue paying more and more for government,” Rep. Brad Roae, R-Crawford, said in a news release. Instead, he wants lawmakers to ensure that the money already available to the state is being used “sensibly.”

Rep. Carl Metzgar, R-Somerset, added that “this 28-cent-per-gallon tax will increase operating costs of every business which are already working on razor thin margins.”
Another stumbling block the bill had to overcome was changes to the state’s prevailing wage laws on transportation work. House Democrats opposed the change, whichwould increase the threshold on projects that require a set rate for contractors.

Another provision in the bill would authorize higher speed limits on the state’s interstate highways. Speeds on the affected highways would be increased from 65 mph to 70 mph for all vehicles.

The amended bill – HB106 – has moved to the Senate where a vote could come as soon as Wednesday afternoon to send the bill to the governor’s desk. Senate lawmakers voted 45-5 earlier this year to approve a funding plan that included the provision to uncap the oil company franchise tax.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Pennsylvania, click here.

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