Senate Transportation Committee Approves $2.5 Billion Funding Plan

Harrisburg Patriot-News

A plan that would increase the state’s investment in addressing its transportation needs by $2.5 billion more annually cleared the Senate Transportation Committee today.

The committee voted 13-1 to approve the plan, sponsored by committee Chairman John Rafferty, R-Montgomery County, that would fund improvements to miles of roadway in bad shape and the state’s 4,400 deteriorating bridges, along with other transportation needs.

He is hopeful it will be considered by the full Senate in early June.

Funding for the plan primarily comes from eliminating the longstanding price caps on a tax on wholesale fuels. Some estimate that could raise the per-gallon price at the gas pump by as much as 28 cents.

Additionally, it calls for increases in the driver’s licenses and vehicle registration fees, along with increases in fines.

Rafferty’s plan builds on a slightly less ambitious proposal that Gov. Tom Corbett offered in February that would increase the state funding for transportation by $1.8 billion.

Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch spotted afterward in a Capitol hallway, called the Senate committee’s approval “another step in the process. We’re pleased to see progress.”

But he and Rafferty know that getting either transportation plan through the General Assembly will be heavy lift, particularly with conservative House Republicans who have shown an unwillingness to support any tax or fee increases.

They argue the state is already spending $5.3 billion in state and federal aid on transportation needs and a tax increase is the last thing taxpayers need.

To them, Rafferty said, “I just would draw to their attention to the fact that the business community is solid behind this.”

Sen. John Wozniak, D-Cambria County, called on those lawmakers to follow in Corbett’s footsteps in putting the needs of Pennsylvania ahead of his no-tax pledge to Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist.

“I know that is a very difficult decision because he’s a man of honor and to sit there and shift his allegiance to Pennsylvania versus his commitment to Norquist was a very, very large step,” Wozniak said, during the committee meeting.

Rafferty said a critical piece to getting the public’s support for the plan is familiarizing people with the projects in their community it would fund.

“We all live in areas or next to the areas where we know bridges that are closed and the hardships that is for communities where school buses now take longer to get there or they kick the fire truck into a development because a bridge is closed or weight-restricted so we have to work on those,” he said.

Schoch said the state Department of Transportation plans to post that list on its website later this month or early next month.

He said it will show three different scenarios — the projects the governor’s plan would fund, the ones the senator’s plan would fund and what happens if no transportation plan is enacted.

Lawmakers have already seen it, which is why Sen. Richard Kasunic, D-Fayette County, cast the committee’s sole dissenting vote. He didn’t like that it failed to include construction of a five-mile stretch of Route 219 in Somerset County that connects Meyersdale to an interstate just over the Maryland line, which is in his senatorial district.

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