Pennsylvania moves one step closer to transportation funding overhaul

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 6/28/2013

As the clock winds down before summer recess at the Pennsylvania statehouse, a House panel voted to advance a bill that would raise $2 billion to fund transportation throughout the state.

The House Transportation Committee voted 16-9 on Thursday, June 27, to approve an amended version of a long-term funding package that would help pay for roads, bridges and transit. If signed into law, the bill could result in a 28-cent increase in the state’s fuel tax rate.

The bill – SB1 – now moves to the House floor. If approved there, it would head back to the Senate for consideration of changes before it can go to the governor’s desk. The chamber voted 45-5 early this month to approve a $2.5 billion version.

The current version of the funding bill would lift a cap 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.

Rep. Ron Marsico, R-Lower Paxton, voted in favor of moving the bill out of committee. He said lawmakers cannot continue to ignore the problem.

“It is time to step up and make the tough decisions about how we are going to rectify this enormous problem,” Marsico said in a press release.

Lifting a cap on the oil company franchise tax could increase the per-gallon tax on fuel more than 28 cents over five 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 $1.8 billion annually for roads and bridges once the cap is completely lifted. About $510 million would be applied to transit while airports, ports, rail and bike routes would claim another $115 million.

Other changes include phasing out Act 44 by 2021. The six-year-old law requires the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to route $450 million annually to the state for roads and bridges.

Removed from the bill was a plan to tie the fees for licensing and registration to inflation. However, counties would be allowed to charge $5 for vehicle registrations.

Another part of the Senate-approved plan that was dropped sought to impose surcharges on traffic violations.

Gov. Corbett said he was pleased with Thursday’s action.

“(Thursday’s) vote shows that the legislature understands transportation’s importance to Pennsylvania’s safety and economy,” Corbett stated.

The governor has called for lawmakers to send him the bill by Sunday, June 30. The Legislature breaks for the summer starting July 1.

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

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