Rendell backs Corbett's gas tax plan
By Debra Erdley
Published: Monday, Feb. 4, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Gov. Tom Corbett's predecessor commends Corbett's idea to raise money for road and bridge maintenance through a higher tax on gas stations.
Former Gov. Ed Rendell, a Philadelphia Democrat, told the Tribune-Review that Pennsylvania needs to address its deteriorating transportation infrastructure and he thinks Corbett, a Shaler Republican, has come up with a good plan.
“I think Gov. Corbett's doing the right thing,” Rendell said. “Raising the cap on the oil franchise is a tax increase that is going to be passed along to drivers at the pump, but we haven't had a gas tax increase since 1998, and it's the right thing to do.”
Corbett on Tuesday is expected to release his plan to generate money for transportation during his budget address. The plan's centerpiece would involve removing a statutory cap on the oil company franchise tax and would require approval from the Legislature, officials have said.
The per-gallon tax is applied up to an average wholesale price of $1.25, and administration officials say lifting the cap could produce $1.9 billion a year.
Gasoline wholesalers likely would pass the cost along to consumers, although Corbett has said multiple factors drive prices at the pump and raising the cap on this tax would not necessarily increase gasoline prices.
The Pennsylvania Highway Information Association, which represents road construction companies, trucking companies, AAA and others, says the current tax amounts to 19.2 cents per gallon. Eliminating the cap could raise that to 47.7 cents per gallon, the association says in a December report.
A Quinnipiac University poll released last week found 47 percent of Pennsylvania voters oppose lifting the cap, while 45 percent support it.
Lawmakers have pressured Corbett for a transportation infrastructure bill to address backlogged road and bridge repairs and to support cash-strapped mass transit systems.
The state has identified 4,774 structurally deficient bridges, the most in the country.
Rendell often emphasized transportation in his policies as governor. After leaving office, he co-founded Building America's Future with New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The bipartisan, nonprofit organization says it seeks to advance infrastructure investment to promote economic growth and global competitiveness.
Political strategists often mention Rendell, a former Democratic National Committee chairman and former head of the Democratic Governors Association, as a potential candidate for a national appointment.
Yet Rendell, 69, said no one with the White House has contacted him to see whether he would be interested in succeeding Ray LaHood as secretary of Transportation.
LaHood last week said he would not continue in the job during President Obama's second term but would remain until Senate confirms a successor. Obama has not nominated anyone.
“No one has contacted me, but if they did, I'd say I want to continue with Mayor Bloomberg as co-chair of Building America's Future,” Rendell said.
Rendell said he can be more effective in lobbying for money for infrastructure work from the outside rather than inside government.
“Time is running out for us,” he said. “We're going to be unsafe, and we're going to fall further and further behind if we don't invest now.”
Rendell returned to his law firm, Philadelphia-based Ballard Spahr, in 2011 and joined a Philadelphia investment firm.
During Obama's 2008 campaign, Rendell backed Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary. He later expressed support for Obama, though he sometimes criticized the president's 2012 re-election campaign.
Debra Erdley is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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