Pennsylvania Senate endorses $2.4 billion transportation plan

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Thursday, November 21, 2013

“We are driving Pennsylvania forward.”

Senate Transportation Chairman John Rafferty spoke to his counterparts during Senate floor discussion on Wednesday, Nov. 20, about the importance of approving a $2.4 billion transportation spending plan. Within minutes the chamber voted 43-7 to approve the plan that would raise various taxes and fees, including truck registrations.

The Senate’s vote clears the way for House lawmakers to give final approval to the bill – HB1060 – on Thursday before it advances to Gov. Tom Corbett’s desk for his signature.

House lawmakers approved the bill earlier this week on a 104-95 vote one day after voting against it on a 103-98 vote.

Sen. John Wozniak, D-Cambria, told lawmakers during Senate floor discussion that the bill would allow the state to make improvements to roads and bridges, which would clear the way for truckers to service communities throughout the state.

“If you have bridges that are weight restricted, they will be prioritized and those weight restrictions will be eliminated,” Wozniak said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation announced this fall that hundreds of bridges would be weight restricted because state lawmakers have not acted to get a transportation deal done.

The road, bridge and transit spending plan nearing passage would raise about $2.4 billion annually in five years. It amounts to about 40 percent more than the state DOT now spends.

The main part of the proposal would remove the state’s 12-cent-per-gallon flat tax on fuel and replace it by lifting the cap on the oil company franchise tax.

Currently, the state’s 39.2-cent-per-gallon diesel tax and 32.3-cent-per-gallon gas tax include a franchise tax rate of 26.1 cents and 19.2 cents, respectively.

Uncapping the franchise tax could increase the per-gallon tax on fuel more than 28 cents over five years because the oil companies are expected to pass along much of the increase to consumers.

Since 1997, 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 toward helping the state raise about $1.8 billion annually for roads and bridges once the cap is completely lifted. About $600 million would be applied to other modes of transportation.

Rafferty, R-Montgomery, said the revenue raised through tax and fee increases would stay with transportation.

“All the money raised through revenue enhancers in this legislation will be used for transportation. It’s not going into the black hole of the general fund,” he said.

Vehicle fees and fines would also be increased over the next five years. Specifically for trucks with a registered gross weight of 80,000 pounds, the fee will climb from $1,687.50 to $1,827 in the first year. Increases of $139 would be implemented during each of the next three years to top out at $2,244 by fiscal year 2017-2018.

Once fully implemented, fees will rise with inflation.

Pennsylvania would be one of at least nine states with IRP fees more than $2,000.

Transportation funding is one of the top priorities of Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration. State lawmakers have spent much of the year discussing how to address a $3.5 billion shortfall.

The governor stated that Wednesday’s vote “kept the momentum moving on a dramatic piece of legislation that will keep our children safe, keep our businesses open and improve the quality of life.”

The bill also includes a change to the state’s prevailing wage laws on transportation work. It would increase the threshold on projects that require a set rate for contractors from $25,000 to $100,000.

The first rate increase in 50 years would be limited to local transportation projects.

Another provision in the bill would authorize higher speed limits on the state’s interstate highways and the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Speeds on the affected highways would be increased from 65 mph to 70 mph for all vehicles.

PennDOT and the Turnpike Commission would have the final say on any speed changes.

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

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