Grata predicts gov's transit plans
By Joe Grata
Published: Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
It's not going to make everyone happy, but Gov. Tom Corbett says he's now prepared to support increased funding for transportation.
The long-anticipated announcement was reported this week by Brad Bumsted, veteran Harrisburg correspondent for the Tribune-Review, a sister publication of The Valley Independent.
Although most Democrat and Republican state lawmakers acknowledge that funding for roads and bridges has not kept up with needs, they've failed to do much about it thus far.
Gasoline and diesel fuel taxes, the cost of driver licenses, motor vehicle registration fees and other traditional Motor License Fund revenue sources haven't been raised for 15 years.
About six years ago, the state unsuccessfully tried to toll Interstate 80 and even sell the Pennsylvania Turnpike to foreign investors.
Then it obligated the Turnpike Commission to borrow $2.5 billion to provide PennDOT with a temporary infusion of cash and, since 2010, to turn over $450 million per year to support roads and public transit.
The last measures have left the turnpike facing $7.4 billion in accumulated debt, plus interest, and forced annual toll hikes of up to 10 percent.
They've put the nation's oldest toll road at risk of financial default and forced tolls high enough to send some traffic to free alternate routes.
Experts say the state needs up to $3 billion a year in more revenue to catch up and sustain sufficient funding to address structurally deficient bridges, deteriorating roads and struggling public transit.
Corbett refused to provide details about his plans to achieve higher transportation funding. He'll unveil them to lawmakers in January.
However, based on creditable sources developed over 40 years of writing about transportation, here's what they (and you) can expect:
Oil Franchise Tax
Combined with a 12-cents-a-gallon flat tax, the oil franchise tax adds 20.3 cents, for a total of 32.3 cent a gallon, making Pennsylvania's gas tax the 15th highest in the U.S.
The OFT is based on a wholesale “cap” of $1.25 per gallon, in place for years although gas has more than doubled in price.
Corbett told insiders he'd like to remove the cap in one fell swoop rather than in phases. Motorists would see about a 20-cent-per-gallon increase - a few cents higher than New York and California, currently No. 1 and No. 2 nationwide.
It would enable the governor to keep his no-tax-increase pledge because, technically, the OFT is assessed on corporations who write off a small part as a tax deduction.
Nonetheless, most of it is passed along to the consumers as a “user fee” rooted in principles that the more you drive, the more you pay, and the bigger the gas guzzler, the more you can afford to pay.
PennDOT could advance postponed projects and restore the transportation infrastructure to 21st Century standards, making travel more efficient and making the state more attractive to business, industry and tourism, - cornerstones of our economy.
Corbett would repeal Act 44 requiring the Turnpike Commission to provide $450 million per year to PennDOT.
The move would free the Turnpike of the burden that threatens its future while enabling the toll road to continue as a viable, valuable transportation asset benefiting state commerce.
Toll Roads Expansion
A percentage of the oil franchise tax increase would be earmarked for this purpose, as it has in the past, enabling the Turnpike to reinvigorate a program enacted by the Legislature in the 1980s.
Specifically, Corbett wants to see construction of the next section of the Southern Beltway, 13.3 miles from I-79 at the Washington-Allegheny county line northwest to the existing 6-mile Findlay Connection leading to I-376 and Pittsburgh International Airport.
The $600 million project, whose preliminary design has been completed, would open thousands of acres to development, serve the Marcellus Shale industry and obviate PennDOT's need to add capacity to I-79 and the Parkway West.
Moreover, it would enhance the potential for a Corbett signature achievement - a $4 billion petrochemical industry in Beaver County, anchored by Royal Dutch Shell's proposed natural gas “cracker plant.”
Because Corbett considers them to be basic privileges and wants to keep them affordable, driver licenses, motor vehicle registrations and most individual fees would remain unchanged, despite the fact they're some of the nation's lowest.
Increased funding for county and municipal governments would help them cope with costs of paving local streets and maintaining their own bridges, traffic signals etc.
The Corbett scenario also would address another major campaign pledge: Jobs.
Lots of 'em.
Thought du jour - Don't go into the “red” by spending too much on “Black Friday.”
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