Indiana County Chamber members hear PennDOT plan to adjust gas tax rates
The Indiana County Chamber of Commerce was one of the first such organizations in the state to support 1997 changes to the state's gas tax. At a March 14 gathering, chamber members heard details of a new plan from PennDOT to alter the gas taxation system with the goal of generating more funding for road and bridge work.
“Nobody wants to pay more taxes. You don't, I don't, nobody does. It'd be crazy,” PennDOT Executive Deputy Secretary of Administration Brad Mallory said at the chamber's Transportation Breakfast Briefing. “But, sometimes, we make the decision that we're willing to do so out of necessity. And, hopefully, it's for core functions of government that absolutely need to be done and there's just no other way to get there from here, literally and figuratively, if you don't do it. That's why you see the rather odd phenomena of chambers around the state, the state chamber and many business groups ... supporting the notion of increased investment in transportation.”
To get the state's transportation system back on track, Mallory said roughly $3.5 billion would be required.
“I'm just very frustrated with the amount that we're funding right now at this level,” state Sen. Don White of Indiana said. “I think that the governor's own transportation commission came back and said that we need $3.5 billion a year for the next 15 years to just get our roads and bridges to standard.”
PennDOT diverted funds into bridge projects at the expense of road improvements in the past, Mallory said, but that model is unsustainable – even after PennDOT trimmed more than $50 million in operating costs through efficiency improvements and waste reduction.
“We took the money that we could have used for these other things if we had enough money and put almost all of it into the bridge system with good results, incidentally,” he said. “The system was starting to hemorrhage, they stopped that, they turned the curve on it. Unfortunately, just the number of bridges getting older every day and the escalation in cost has resulted in a situation now where the bridge number is going to go up again.
“A bridge, as they say, is binary. It's either on or it's off. You can either drive across it or you can't,” Mallory added. “There are places where the kids don't ride the school bus across the bridge. They get out of the school bus, the bus drives across the bridge, they walk across the bridge and then they get back on the bus. That's Third World stuff. That's not what we ought to be involved with.”
The plan described by Mallory would eliminate the caps on wholesale price taxing and reduce the flat-rate tax at the pump from 12 cents to 10 cents.
“We face the unfortunate necessity of having to dip further once again,” Mallory said. “The only limited good news is that, if we do the right thing, we actually save ourselves enough money to probably more than pay for this.”
The wholesale tax is based on an average price per gallon, which for tax calculations is capped at $1.25 although wholesale prices have significantly exceeded the cap in recent years.
“We quickly realized the cap was kind of the center piece of the issue and if it were gone, frankly, transportation revenues would rise and fall with the economy,” Mallory said, noting the flat-rate tax at the pump is a declining revenue source as vehicles become more fuel-efficient.
Local officials recalled Mallory as a key architect to transportation infrastructure improvements in the county during his time as Secretary of Transportation.
“You've always been a friend to Indiana County, so we assume that will happen and continue as we move forward,” Indiana County Commissioner Rodney Ruddock said. “We only need to drive up the road of 119 to actually recall the great effort you have made to bring us where we are today. We know that your message, as you return to Harrisburg, will certainly be an endorsement to our needs here.”
Greg Reinbold is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2913 or firstname.lastname@example.org.