State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Senate to swing higher for a transportation funding plan

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Feb 12, 2013 11:24 PM
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The head of PennDOT is reassuring state lawmakers the governor’s proposal to generate revenue for transportation infrastructure projects will get a good chunk of the job done, though it looks like state lawmakers’ first try at legislation to generate funding will be more ambitious.

The governor’s plan would generate more than $5 billion over five years for roads, bridges, mass transit, multi-modal transportation, and ports.

But Corbett’s own Transportation Funding Advisory Commission made recommendations in 2011 to generate $2.5 billion dollars annually to fill part of what at the time was estimated to be a $3.5 billion dollar annual funding gap.

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman John Rafferty, who’s leading the effort to draft legislation on the issue, said he’s looking for something north of that.

“My goal is to reach about 2.7, 2.8 billion [dollars],” he said Tuesday.

Rafferty added the panel will reach that goal by including things suggested by the governor’s 2011 advisory commission, such as higher license and registration fees and violation fines.

It’s a significant signal, given that a common concern in and around the Capitol in the days since the governor presented his transportation plan has been: is it enough?

At a Tuesday Senate Transportation Committee hearing, PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch spoke to lawmakers frankly and without notes, reciting issues and figures he’s been explaining since the 2011 TFAC report. This time, lawmakers wanted to know not when a proposal would be unveiled, but whether the one from the governor do the trick.

“I want to be able to say to my people back home, this is what your gas tax bought you,” said Rep. Dick Hess (R-Bedford).

Schoch said if Corbett’s proposal were to be passed in the spring, it would generate at least $200 million more for construction projects in 2013.

He then added that he could deliver even more construction, if lawmakers passed a bill generating even more funding.

While Rafferty said he’d like to tack on higher fees and fines to the governor’s plan, he’s not touching Corbett’s proposed reduction of a tax, paid directly by motorists, on gas at the pump.

“We think it’s important to send a message to consumers that we’re on their side,” said Rafferty.

The proposal has been criticized by Senate Democrats as an olive branch to people who rankle at the idea of higher taxes. It’s also causing concern among municipalities, which get a piece of the revenues from the tax for their own local transportation costs.

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