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Foes claim Corbett plan to finance highway upgrades requires a tax increase

| Friday, Nov. 22, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

HARRISBURG — Political analysts say Gov. Tom Corbett gets a boost for winning approval of a legislative priority — a $2.3 billion transportation bill — but could lose support from conservatives who say it's fueled by a tax hike.

Corbett, a Republican, promised not to raise taxes as a candidate in 2010. He's seeking re-election next year, using a campaign slogan of “promises kept.”

“The governor and his minions decided to sock it to the taxpayers,” Teri Adams, president of the Independence Hall Tea Party Association, said Thursday.

Corbett said the bill raises revenue through fees on gas suppliers and is necessary for public safety, failing transit systems and keeping businesses competitive.

“I don't see this as a tax increase,” said his campaign manager, Mike Barley, who characterized it as “removing an artificial cap” on the wholesale gas tax.

The House approved the bill, 113-85, and sent it to Corbett to sign. Supporters in the legislature acknowledge the bill probably will increase gasoline taxes, potentially by 28.7 cents over five years.

The bill provides $1.65 billion for roads and highways and up to $497 million for mass transit annually. The gas tax, vehicle fees and fines pay for it.

Ryan Shafik, a consultant to conservative candidates, predicted Democrats would attack Corbett “for breaking his promise not to raise taxes on struggling middle-class taxpayers. And this will further hurt him with Republicans … and it will keep the independents and Democrats even more firmly opposed to him.”

Rep. Tim Krieger, R-Delmont, who voted against the bill four times, called it the “politics of plunder” in a statement.

“Proponents ... claim to recognize the responsibility of governing,” Krieger said. “In order to be responsible, the first thing would be to determine if the more than $6 billion that is already being spent on transportation is being spent wisely.”

Corbett lags in public opinion polls. A late October statewide survey by Franklin & Marshall College found one in three Republicans rated his performance as “excellent” or “good.”

Yet Wes Leckrone, a political science professor at Widener University, thinks it will be difficult for Democrats to use the transportation bill against Corbett since dozens of Democratic lawmakers voted for it.

“It's not at the top of the list for voters. But it says more broadly, ‘I'm fixing this problem, and we're going to provide jobs,' ” Leckrone said.

Barley said passage of the legislation “changes the false narrative that ‘this governor can't get anything done.' ”

But Adams argued that Corbett likely “twisted the arms of Republican state representatives in order to pass this disastrous piece of legislation.”

“It's not going to solve his problems,” said David Kershaw, an assistant professor of political science at Slippery Rock University.

At least eight Democrats plan to seek their party's nomination for governor in May. Political analyst G. Terry Madonna, the Franklin & Marshall pollster, said it's difficult to foresee Republicans voting for a Democratic nominee or refusing to vote. “Where are they going to go?” said Madonna.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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