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TV Smart Talk - Road Relief

Written by Nell McCormack Abom | Feb 7, 2013 8:55 AM

The bumpy, detour-riddled road to improving Pennsylvania’s crumbling infrastructure might finally be clearer thanks to the plan unveiled this week by Gov. Tom Corbett in his state budget address.  The centerpiece of Corbett’s transportation-funding plan involves raising one gas tax while cutting another.  Nothing is ever simple but we will try to bring clarity to the discussion with Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch tonight at 8 on Smart Talk on witf- TV.  We welcome your phone calls at 1-800-729-7532 and your emails at smarttalk@witf.org.

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Corbett proposes to uncap the Oil Company Franchise Tax, a tax on the wholesale price of gas paid by fuel distributors (i.e., service stations), over the next five years.  At the same time, he would cut the flat gas tax paid by drivers at the pump from 12 cents to 10 cents per gallon. The goal is to raise $5 billion over the next five years to be spent on improvements to highways, bridges and mass transit systems across the state.  The governor’s own Transportation Funding Advisory Commission in 2011 estimated the yearly ongoing need at $3.5 billion and recommended ways to raise at least $2.7 billion a year.  The governor's new plan would eventually generate annual revenues of $1.8 billion, but not until year five.  Still, for anyone who has driven the choppy roads and crossed the rickety bridges of PA, some help is better than none.

So, does this plan raise taxes on gas stations, and possibly drivers, in violation of Corbett’s anti-tax pledge?  No, says Corbett.  He argues that it’s “time for oil and gas companies to pay their fair share,” and that he is not creating a new tax but rather applying an existing tax to the full value of what these companies sell.  As for consumers being hit with an increase, Corbett takes a pass on that one, too.  He says “multiple factors” affect the price at the pump and one would not be able to pin down any increase to the measure he proposes.  Lawmakers last approved a gas-tax increase in 1997.

Critics, as one might imagine, do not agree.  Some feel it is a clear tax increase.  Others argue the overall plan is too timid.  They would like to see higher driver- and vehicle-licensing fees, as the transportation commission suggested.  Corbett does not propose any of those increases, but he would change aspects of driver and vehicle licensing to save PennDOT millions, he claims, in administrative costs. 

Also joining our discussion will be State Representative Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster, who serves as chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee, and Gene Barr, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.

We'd love to hear your ideas on the transportation plan.  Post a comment to this article, or send us a message on Facebook, or Twitter.  You also can join the conversation live at 8 tonight at 1-800-729-7532.

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Comments: 2

  • James Barbush img 2013-02-07 16:09

    I am looking forward to hearing further details on the plan to fund transportation differently than we have in the past. I have heard some presentations from state leaders on this topic. I like what I have heard so far. It's refreshing to hear leaders, such as Gov. Corbett and Secretary Schoch, speak plainly about the issues, come out with a plan, and provide reasons for the details of that plan.

    It's the same old political debate when some have already started their heavy criticism. Until now, I have not heard workable plans to fund transportation in PA, other than tolls of interstates which has been determined to be against federal regulations because they were federally funded.

    What I have heard and know is that our transportation system is in serious trouble, as is much of our infrastructure. Let's hear what the Governor and the Secretary have to say.

  • James Barbush img 2013-02-07 21:33

    I listened to Smart Talk - discussions about Pension Reform, Privitization of Wine and "spirits", and Transportaiton Funding". So far, I support the Governor's proposals.

    PENSION REFORM:
    I have a question. If future pension amounts were increased during an employee's working time, why can't they be decreased, proportional to time the rules applied, back to where they previously were during an employee's working time? Reform must happen at least for future employees, and possibly for future contributions.

    PRIVITIZATION OF LIQUOR SALES:
    PA should get out of the business. That is the driving criteria. No, I "do not lose sleep over it" (as the one panel member stated, as if that is a criteria to make this decision?), but I am with most citizens of PA who don't want the state involved in the sale as PA does.

    TRANSPORTAITON FUNDING.
    Some say the Governor should have gone farther and should have acted sooner. If he would have gone farther, then I suspect the same people and others would say the Governor went too far. The 3rd year in his term to take action on this important and complex topic is fine with me. The amount of study involved surely took much of that time. And it's obvious that the Governor's admnistration studied this in many ways.

    Even though the shortfall in transportatin funding is $3.5B per year, we cannot expect to get that in one shot. It's a severe, long term problem, that will take appropriate, long tem action. I am satisfied with getting a large portion of the shortfall. It's the best option I have heard in a long time.

    CONTRACTING OUR OF LOTTERY ADMINISTRATION:
    In my opinion, that is a reasonable contracting plan for many PA programs, including the lottery. It's not selling the lottery, but contracting out the administration with guarantees in place, taking advantage of needed expertise for a better flow of income.

    For the above debated issues, I believe the panelists who supported the Governor's proposals had the best reasoning as to why the Governor's proposals are good ones.

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