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Transportation funding expected to fall $6B short in Pennsylvania

| Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, 10:27 p.m.

Pennsylvania will be about $6 billion short of being able to fund all the projects legislators promised their constituents during passage of Act 89, the transportation funding bill of 2013.

Secretary Leslie Richards will break the news to the Senate Transportation Committee when she testifies Tuesday, according to a copy of her testimony obtained by the Tribune-Review.

Pennsylvania's 12-year transportation plan covers about 2,800 projects at a cost of about $34 billion. But that exceeds the $28 billion in revenue projected to come in for that time frame.

“The Corbett administration over promised projects by at least $6 billion compared to projections of available revenue the next 12 years following Act 89,” Richards' testimony reads. “Absent a legislative solution, a number of these project(sic) may not advance in the next 12 years.”

Act 89, passed by legislative leaders in November 2013, raised PennDOT fees and opened up fuel prices to tax increases to get more money for state transportation projects. Its passage marked the pinnacle of Republican Gov. Tom Corbett's legislative accomplishments but stirred dissatisfaction among his base because of the increased taxes.

Corbett and his team lobbied for months. Among their efforts was a “Decade of Investment” website promoting what projects could be funded. The bill passed with bipartisan support.

Richard's testimony notes that the website included this caveat: “Obviously, the final list will depend upon the actual legislated revenue if a bill is passed and signed by the Governor.”

The State Transportation Commission in August 2014 approved the latest 12-year plan that outlines future projects. The list is available online via PennDOT's interactive map, which says which House and Senate districts the projects are in. The plan is updated every two years.

Richards maintains the funding situation is not a product of the current administration. Legislators, her testimony says, have come to her with concerns about why projects in their districts are not moving, which she says is a matter of funds.

“Governor Wolf and I are moving projects you and your constituents expect, within the resources we are given,” her testimony reads.

Steve Miskin, spokesman for the House Republicans, wasn't familiar with legislative concerns or Richards' testimony but said it sounded like “stereotypical” Democratic pleas.

“It's just the stereotypical Democratic response, ‘We want more money,' ” he said. “There's gonna be a lot of anger.”

Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, said he had not seen Richards' testimony but wasn't surprised to hear that funds could fall short compared to a wish list.

“We knew that back when the previous governor did his previous transportation plan,” Costa said.

Even Act 89, which would create $2.3 billion in new funds by its fifth year, wasn't the $3.2 billion recommended by the Transportation Funding Advisory Commission from 2011.

Choosing which projects to fund with revenues available ought to be a matter of what is a safety priority, Costa said.

“You have to make sure they are fixing those roads that are the most in need of repair,” he said, “That needs to be No. 1 priority.”

The hearing will focus on “the delay and delivery of transportation projects.” Representatives of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, Associated Pennsylvania Constructions, America Council of Engineering Companies of Pennsylvania, the Public Utility Commission, the Department of Environmental Protection and numerous representatives from the utility industry are expected to attend.

Melissa Daniels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8511 or mdaniels@tribweb.com.

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