Pennsylvania Senate approves transportation funding overhaul

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 6/5/2013

A push to raise $2.5 billion to fund transportation in Pennsylvania is halfway through the statehouse.

The Senate voted 45-5 on Wednesday, June 4, to advance to the House a long-term funding package that would help pay for roads, bridges and transit throughout the state. If signed into law, the bill could result in a 28-cent increase in the state’s fuel tax rate.

Sen. John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, spoke on the chamber floor before Wednesday’s vote. He called on state lawmakers to act now to improve public safety and economic development.

“The worst thing we can do in Pennsylvania is do nothing,” Rafferty said.

His plan would raise $2.5 billion by the third year. Most of the new annual revenue would come via ending a cap on a tax on wholesale fuel prices.

The change was touted in 2011 by an advisory commission to Gov. Tom Corbett on transportation funding. The Transportation Funding Advisory Commission estimated a $3.5 billion annual shortfall in funds needed for roads, bridges and transit.

Lifting a cap on the oil company franchise tax could increase the per-gallon tax on fuel about 28 cents over three years because the companies are expected to pass along much of the increase to consumers. Currently, the tax applies 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 $1.9 billion annually for roads and bridges. About $510 million would be applied to transit while airports, ports, rail and bike routes would claim another $115 million.

Sen. John Wozniak, D-Cambria, referred to the effort as an economic stimulus package. He asked lawmakers before the vote to have the courage to act on the bill.

“We’re not doing this because we want to do it. We’re doing it because we have to do it,” he said.

Other changes include phasing out Act 44. The six-year-old law requires the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to route $450 million annually to the state for roads and bridges.

Another part of the plan would impose surcharges on traffic violations and tie the fees for licensing, registration and permitting to inflation.

Ticketing for traffic offenses that affect insurance would have a $100 surcharge attached. Offenses that don’t affect insurance would be increased between $100 and $300.

The bill – SB1 – awaits assignment to committee in the House.

Sen. Rafferty said that he will work with House lawmakers to negotiate and work out any differences between the chambers on the bill’s provisions.

“It’s too critical of a bill to just punt and let the other side go with it. We have to keep communicating to make sure we’re on the right track.”

OOIDA encourages Pennsylvania truckers to be involved in the legislative process.

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

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