ShareThis Page

Proposed Pennsylvania transportation funding overhaul put on idle

| Tuesday, June 25, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Pennsylvania's House Transportation Committee chairman pumped the brakes on Monday on his proposal to overhaul a Senate bill that would boost transportation funding by $2.5 billion annually.

Late in the morning, Dick Hess, R-Bedford, abruptly recessed a House Transportation Committee meeting on funding, saying the committee was “waiting on another amendment.” Hess spokesman Ray Smith later said “other discussions have begun,” declining to elaborate.

Government leaders and transportation officials across the state expressed concern over Hess' amendments, which House Democrats leaked during the weekend. The amendments would “eviscerate funding to mass transit across Pennsylvania,” said Bill Patton, press secretary for House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont.

“Frankly, I think they're having trouble getting Republican support for this amendment,” said Rep. Michael P. McGeehan, the transportation committee's minority chairman, calling Hess' amendments “totally out of left field.”

Democrats estimated Hess' plan would take 10 years to generate an extra $2 billion a year for transportation.

Three plans before lawmakers would get most of their money by lifting a cap on the oil company franchise tax that wholesalers pay, but Hess would uncap the tax over 10 years while the Senate plan would do so in three years and Gov. Tom Corbett's proposal in five. Hess' plan would scrap a proposed decrease in liquid fuels taxes.

Transit funding would take a hit under Hess' plan, with House Democrats saying Pennsylvania agencies would get a combined $681 million over five years, less than half the $1.4 billion under the Senate plan for the same period.

Hess would eliminate the Senate's proposed $100 surcharge on traffic tickets, a plan that would generate a combined $458.8 million for transit over five years.

Hess' plan also would require Port Authority of Allegheny County and the Philadelphia-based SEPTA to seek bids from private companies to run at least 10 percent of the agencies' routes, House Democrats said.

“The private sector is only going to provide the service that it thinks it can make money off. If it can't make money on the routes it bids for, then what?” said Chris Sandvig, regional policy director for the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group.

Steve Palonis, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85, which represents more than 2,000 Port Authority drivers and mechanics, said the union was analyzing the amendments.

“We've already put a lot of skin in the game to help keep transit here,” Palonis said of labor concessions in the last three contract talks. “They (legislators) keep moving the goal posts every time you turn around.”

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.