Pennsylvania lawmakers discuss transportation funding

| 8/23/2010

Gov. Ed Rendell made a last-ditch attempt Monday, Aug. 23, to convince Pennsylvania state lawmakers to do something about the state’s transportation funding crisis. The situation worsened early this year when the federal government denied a proposal to charge tolls on Interstate 80.

Rendell said the state needs more than $3 billion annually to meet the existing needs for repairs and improvements to roads, bridges and transit systems. He wants lawmakers to avoid waiting until a new governor is elected this fall.

Pennsylvania Transportation Secretary Allen Biehler on Monday addressed a joint, bipartisan meeting of the House and Senate to outline two options that could be implemented this fall and in place by the first of the year. Touted as being able to raise nearly $1 billion in the first full fiscal year, the measures would implement a tax on oil company profits and increase about 60 driver’s license fees.

“This much-needed infusion of money will help keep bridges and roads safe and smooth and create jobs and prosperity across Pennsylvania,” Biehler said.

In an effort to calm concerns among lawmakers that voters will frown on higher taxes, Rendell reiterated to legislators that Pennsylvania residents support higher taxes to make sure the state’s transportation system doesn’t continue to erode.

“Every month we delay, the cost of repairs goes up. The time for legislative action is now,” Rendell stated.

OOIDA Director of Legislative Affairs Mike Joyce said that before lawmakers go digging again into taxpayers’ pockets they need to show that revenues already available are not being squandered.

“It is incumbent upon elected officials to re-establish trust with taxpayers.” Joyce said the first step is to make sure revenues, such as fuel taxes, are being used in the way originally intended.

“Policymakers and lawmakers have too often broken promises. That is a big reason why they have not been able to win the favor of voters to increase fuel taxes over the years.”

Sen. Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, said during the meeting that lawmakers “don’t want a band-aid approach.” Any proposed fix needs to provide funding for many years.

With the fall elections looming and a new governor poised to take office in January, legislative leaders have indicated that any long-term solutions to fund transportation projects are likely to be delayed until next year.

One option that is expected to get consideration in the months ahead is charging tolls at the state’s border.

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

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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