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Corbett: Fixing roads, bridges a priority for next two years

| Monday, Nov. 19, 2012, 3:03 p.m.
Valley News Dispatch
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett speaks to community members and the media before ceremonially signing House Bill 3, The Public and Private Partnerships for Transportation Act, at the New Kensington branch campus of the Westmoreland County Community College on Wednesday, September 26, 2012. Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Corbett said on Monday he will propose and lobby for a legislative plan to pay toward fixing the state's $3.5 billion in transportation needs.

He offered no details but said fixing roads and bridges would be a priority during the next two years, along with continuing a push to privatize the state's liquor stores.

“We'll keep going at it,” Corbett said when asked about the lack of legislative support for divestiture. “I don't back away.”

During remarks at a Pennsylvania Press Club Luncheon, the Shaler Republican said his agenda includes reducing state pension costs, which cost taxpayers $1.3 billion per year and will spike in four years to $4.3 billion.

A commission that Corbett set up last year said it expects transportation needs to increase to $7.5 billion in 10 years. The commission suggested ways to raise $2.7 billion, about half of which would come from lifting the cap on the state's oil franchise tax, likely leading to higher prices at gas pumps. The commission recommended increasing fees for auto registrations and driver's licenses.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald worked with Corbett's administration last summer to find a temporary solution to prevent deep transit cuts and layoffs at Port Authority. The plan included a one-time infusion of $30 million from the state.

“It was always part of the discussion that a more permanent solution was going to come,” said Fitzgerald, a Democrat. “Now that the election is behind us, I think it's time to do business, both at the state and federal level. We will certainly be supportive (of increased transportation funding), not just for transit but for roads and bridges as well.”

Transportation funding typically is not a partisan issue.

“The words are encouraging, but we need details from the governor that will lead to action,” said House Democratic spokesman Bill Patton.

House GOP spokesman Stephen Miskin said the administration needs to define its plan.

“No one questions the need to enact a serious transportation funding program in Pennsylvania,” said Erik Arneson, spokesman for Senate Republicans. “The cost of doing nothing increases every day.”

“It's been a long time in coming,” said Sen. Vincent Hughes, ranking Democrat on the appropriations committee. “We need to see the details.”

Corbett's spokesman, Kevin Harley, said the governor's proposal would likely include some of the commission's recommendations, but he would not specify them. The state gas tax no longer provides sufficient revenue because Pennsylvania collects less as cars become more fuel efficient.

“First, it's welcome news,” said Robert Latham, executive vice president of the Associated Pennsylvania Constructors. “Gov. Corbett has always indicated he's been a supporter of infrastructure investment. We're pretty pleased he's ready to go with this.

“What the governor comes out with may or may not be 100 percent of what his commission proposed, but it will probably be a large part of it,” Latham said.

Corbett is the third governor to propose selling the liquor stores. House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, tried to advance a bill the past two years without success.

Asked to rank his priorities, Corbett said liquor privatization is “right up there” with transportation and pension reform.

“We have no business being in the business of selling booze,” Corbett said. “We're not in the business of selling beer. We shouldn't be in the business of selling liquor and wine. Forty-eight other states have shown it can work.”

Pennsylvania and Utah are the only states with monopolies of wholesale and retail sale of wine and liquor.

Corbett said he is considering a potential contract to privately manage the Pennsylvania Lottery. The first hurdle a company must clear is showing that it could raise more revenue than the lottery brings in.

“We want to see if they can increase the rate of growth for the lottery” to provide more money for senior citizen programs. The state would retain ownership of the lottery.

Corbett called the so-called fiscal cliff — a failure by Congress and President Obama to reach agreement on spending and debt issues by Jan. 1 — “absolutely frightening.” In addition to tax increases for people across the nation, Pennsylvania would lose hundreds of millions of dollars for its budget, he said.

“I fear for the economy. I fear another recession,” Corbett said.

Staff writer Tom Fontaine contributed to this report. Brad Bumsted is state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 and bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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