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Corbett to roll out billion-dollar roads plan

| Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, 8:58 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Corbett is preparing to unveil a transportation plan funded primarily by nearly $2 billion a year in new taxes on gas stations, two people who learned details of the plan told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The Republican governor, who pledged not to raise taxes when he ran for office, will announce the fine points of the long-awaited initiative next week, the two people told the AP on the condition they not be identified because the governor hadn't publicly disclosed the plan.

Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley said the tax would not be paid directly by consumers.

“How is he raising taxes?” Harley said. “I'm curious how he's raising taxes?”

The centerpiece of the plan would involve removing a statutory cap on the oil company franchise tax and would require approval from the state Legislature. 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.

In November, Corbett told reporters that prices at the pump are driven by multiple factors, so raising the statutory cap on the oil company franchise tax would not necessarily increase prices at the pump.

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, said Wednesday that administration officials had not told him in any certain terms what kind of plan Corbett will support. But he said that he has been invited to a press conference to announce it Jan. 24 and noted that administration officials have been engaged in negotiations on drafting legislation to remove the cap on the tax.

Lawmakers have been pressuring Corbett for a major transportation infrastructure bill to address a backlog in road and bridge repairs and to support the cash-strapped mass transit systems. Whatever the governor proposes is certain to get a close look in the Legislature, where transportation is an issue of great importance to all members.

Corbett first told reporters in November that he was considering the idea, which also was recommended in 2011 by his hand-picked commission to study ways to boost transportation funding.

That panel suggested higher vehicle and driver registration fees, and dedicating a fraction of sales taxes for transportation. It also spoke of a need to improve safety, resurface roads, build new roads and bridges, upgrade mass transit and improve freight lines, airports and ports.

The state has 4,774 structurally deficient bridges.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation said it is on track to spend $5.3 billion this fiscal year on highways, bridges and mass transit. The total includes federal money.

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