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Corbett wary of new fee for transportation

With average gas prices hovering around $4 a gallon, Gov. Tom Corbett said on Tuesday that the time may not be right to impose more fees on motorists to boost transportation funding.

"How many people want to see increases in gas prices?" Corbett said during a news conference at Giffin Interior & Fixture Inc. in Bridgeville.

None of the workers gathered in the shop area of the custom interior and millworking company raised their hands.

"Economic times have an impact," as will gas prices, on the approach Corbett said he will take in addressing the state's glaring transportation needs.

It remains unknown when, or if, Corbett will propose a plan to create new sources of money for transportation. In August, an advisory commission Corbett appointed proposed ways to generate an extra $2.7 billion a year for transportation within five years.

About a quarter of Pennsylvania's state and locally owned bridges are structurally deficient, one-fifth of its state-maintained roads are in poor condition and transit agencies statewide face budget crunches -- none worse than Port Authority's $64 million deficit, which could result in the deepest cuts in the agency's 48-year history.

One of the commission's key proposals recommended lifting the cap on wholesale gasoline prices. That would ultimately generate an extra $1.4 billion annually, the commission said, but PennDOT officials estimated it also could raise prices at the pump by 4 cents per gallon each year for five years.

Pittsburgh City Council conducted a public hearing yesterday on Port Authority's funding crisis and potential solutions. Several people, including Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Port Authority CEO Steve Bland, said Corbett and legislators need to provide a source of funding dedicated exclusively to transit.

"The biggest thing we can communicate to the governor and to the state is 50 percent of the people who work in Downtown Pittsburgh every day use (public) transportation to get down here," said Fitzgerald, noting access to public transportation is a key factor in the region's growth.

Corbett said he is "not prepared to do anything" to help Port Authority until he "sees movement" in contract negotiations between the agency and its largest labor union, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85. The union's pact expires June 30.

Corbett used Giffin Interior & Fixture as a backdrop yesterday to urge legislators to pass his $27.1 billion budget proposal.

"It is built the way you build your own household budgets," Corbett said. "You spend no more than you have."

Corbett's plan closes a $700 million deficit and trims spending by more than $20 million from the budget. Corbett dismissed accusations that he doesn't consider education a top priority because his budget would cut higher education funding by $230 million. Education funding represents the largest chunk of spending, at 40 percent, he said.

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