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Pennsylvania in position to weather loss of federal transportation funds

| Thursday, June 26, 2014, 11:12 p.m.

Pennsylvania is poised to weather a potential federal transportation funding crisis, a PennDOT official said.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, on Thursday warned the federal highway trust fund, which provides money for road construction and mass transit, could run out of money in late August.

“What we're facing is the transportation equivalent of the government shutdown,” Casey told reporters during a conference call.

Casey said some states are pumping the brakes on transportation projects because of the uncertain future of funding.

Pennsylvania isn't one of them.

State lawmakers passed a bill last year to generate an added $2.3 billion annually for transportation within five years, including an extra $331 million in the first half of this year.

Pennsylvania spends about $6 billion a year on transportation, about $1.5 billion of which comes from the federal government, said PennDOT spokesman Rich Kirkpatrick.

“We're in a position where we don't have to alter our plans; we can weather this immediate crisis,” Kirkpatrick said. “But the longer the impasse (in Washington) goes on, it starts to undercut the benefits of what our governor and legislators did.”

Casey, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, endorses a $9 billion proposal by committee chairman Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, to keep the highway trust fund solvent through the end of the year.

Among other things, the measure would double the limit on the heavy-vehicle use tax for vehicles heavier than 97,000 pounds, from $550 a year to $1,100 annually, to generate $1.35 billion over 10 years. It would allow the State Department to refuse to issue or renew passports for people with delinquent taxes or unpaid child support of more than $2,500, and revoke passports for people with tax debts over $50,000. That would generate $388 million over 10 years.

“There is no way tax hikes to pay for more spending will fly in the House,” Rep. David Camp, R-Michigan, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement on the committee's website, adding the committee should have its proposal by early July.

Tom Fontaine is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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