Pennsylvania lawmakers take another crack at transportation funding solution

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 9/23/2013

After a nearly three-month break Pennsylvania state lawmakers return to Harrisburg today to continue discussion on unresolved issues. One issue that is expected to get a lot of attention is a nearly $2 billion transportation funding plan.

Senate lawmakers voted in June to advance to the House a bill that could result in a 28-cent increase in the state’s fuel tax rate. A revised version of the bill – SB1 – was awaiting consideration on the House floor when lawmakers recessed until the fall.

The funding plan stalled due to criticism on both sides of the aisle. Democrats aren’t satisfied with revenue that would be earmarked for mass transit. Republicans say new taxes and fees would pile on taxpayers.

Since then, transportation officials and state lawmakers met multiple times to discuss the consequences if lawmakers fail to resolve the issue.

Secretary of Transportation Barry Schoch told members of the Senate Transportation Committee in July he couldn’t believe the issue remains unresolved two years after a transportation funding advisory commission to Gov. Tom Corbett estimated a $3.5 billion annual shortfall.

Schoch said that due to their failure to act “the consequences have already started.” Soon afterward, the state Department of Transportation lowered weight limits on 1,000 bridges across the state.

“You start weight restricting bridges, you start sending trucks on longer detour routes,” Schoch testified. He later pointed out that such detours could be anywhere from three to 26 miles.

The funding plan being considered by lawmakers would lift a cap on the oil company franchise tax. The move 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 other modes of transportation.

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.

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

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