By John Finnerty
Lawmakers unveiled a $2.5 billion transportation plan on Tuesday that generates $800,000 a year more than Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposal by accelerating a gas tax increase and whacking motorists with increased fines for moving violations.
The Republican and Democratic chairs of the House and Senate transportation committees attended the press conference and endorsed the measure.
Sen. John Rafferty, R-Montgomery County, the author of the legislation, said he hopes the Senate transportation committee will consider the bill in as soon as two weeks.
But behind the show of bipartisan support, there was palpable sense of a brewing battle ahead, particularly in the House of Representatives.
Rafferty’s bill was unveiled a day after a group of Republican lawmakers said they wanted the state to use the proceeds from dismantling the state liquor monopoly on roads and bridges. Those lawmakers, including Republican Rep. Brad Roae of Crawford County, said the state should use all available revenue before asking drivers to absorb a gas tax increase. That measure is not part of Rafferty’s plan.
Roae said Tuesday that he does not support increasing the gas tax and estimated that there may be “several dozen” other Republicans in the House who feel the same way.
Roae said that the Senate bill and the governor’s plan both failed to require mass transit users to pay more or attack wasteful spending and on multiple fronts. Roae added that some of the projects PennDOT has tied to the transportation plan do not seem necessary.
“Projects like the new curve by Hunter’s Inn and the North Street project in Meadville are nice, but they are not critical,” Roae said. “Only doing critical projects would cut down on the spending.”
House transportation committee chairman Rep. Dick Hess, R-Bedford County, said he has not heard a lot of grousing from fellow House Republicans about the gas tax increase.
Hess said lifting the ceiling on the gas tax is defensible. Drivers who don’t drive much will not have to bear much of an increase, Hess said.
Sen. John Wozniak, D-Cambria County, is the Democratic chairman of the Senate transportation committee.
Wozniak said that approval will not be easy, but he called the vote “the most important vote in the first quarter of the 21st Century.”
Wozniak said that the spending could create between 100,000 and 250,000 jobs.
“I know Cambria County could use those jobs,” he said.
Increased transportation spending will help all Pennsylvanians, Wozniak said.
“We need mass transit to take people off the roads and we need our roads fixed in the rural areas,” Wozniak said.
PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch said a transportation funding task force suggested fees and tax increases almost identical to those included in Rafferty’s bill. That task force estimated the changes would amount to about $2.50 a week more for the average motorist.
The gas tax increase alone would translate into $2 a week more for a motorist driving a car that gets 30 miles per gallon and traveling 12,000 miles a year.
Schoch said that PennDOT’s spending plan for the 2013 construction season anticipated that the transportation would pass. If it doesn’t, PennDOT will have to drop about $400 million worth of construction work, he said.
Under Rafferty’s plan, about $1.9 billion would go toward highways and bridges. Another $500 million would go toward mass transit systems and about $115 million would be split between airports, ports, rail freight and walking and biking routes.
What the Senate transportation bill means to drivers
Senate Bill 1 would retain Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposal for lifting a wholesale tax on oil. But the bill would phase that increase in over three years, compared to the five proposed by Corbett.
Analysts have estimated that the move will translate into a 25 to 28 cent a gallon increase in the price of gas.
The Senate bill would tack a $100 surcharge on all speeding tickets and $100 to $300 on other moving violations, such as driving through a red light or ignoring a stop sign.
Vehicle registration would only need to be renewed every two years. But the cost of a renewal would increase from $36 to $104.
Driver’s licenses would increase from $29.50 to $50.50. Licenses are now renewed every four years. Rafferty’s bill would change to a six-year renewal cycle.
Finnerty reports from Harrisburg for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc.’s Pennsylvania newspapers, including The Meadville Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.