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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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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