Time running out on Pennsylvania transportation funding deal

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 11/18/2013

The Pennsylvania House is expected to vote this week on a bill to raise billions of dollars for roads, bridges and transit. If a deal isn’t done in the coming days, it could be a while before a transportation funding solution gets legislative approval.

One of the top priorities of Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration, a plan to address a $3.5 billion transportation funding shortfall has struggled to win over lawmakers.

Senate lawmakers approved a bill earlier this year that would raise $2.5 billion by eliminating 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.

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 $510 million would be applied to other modes of transportation.

The plan has stalled in the House with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle unwilling to endorse it.

House Democrats have balked at the amount of money that would be earmarked for mass transit. Meanwhile, their Republican counterparts have called for changes the state’s prevailing wage laws on transportation work.

The full House is preparing to vote this week on a plan to aid roads, bridges and transit. The leading proposal – HB106 – would raise $2.3 billion through tax and fee increases.

House Transportation Chairman Nick Micozzie, R-Delaware, said it is time that state lawmakers resolve their most crucial funding issues.

“It is essential that we move forward with a funding plan before our roads and bridges deteriorate any further,” Micozzie said in a news release.

The main part of the proposal would end collection of the state’s 12-cent-per-gallon flat tax on fuel and replace it by lifting the cap on the oil company franchise tax. Vehicle fees would also be increased over the next five years.

The Legislature is scheduled to break at the end of this week until early December. Failure to approve a funding plan in the next few days could delay a resolution on the issue until at least next year.

Any proposal that passes muster in the House would still need approval by Senate lawmakers before it could advance to the governor’s desk.

“Make no mistake, failure to pass a transportation funding bill is an option the state cannot afford,” Micozzie stated. “Doing nothing will only prolong the crisis and increase costs.”

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