Governor Ed Rendell warned state lawmakers this week of disaster if they fail to dedicate additional dollars for Pennsylvania's highways, bridges and mass transit agencies by the end of the year.
One reason the highway budget is so bleak is because funding was expected to be derived by putting toll booths on Interstate 80. The federal government rejected that proposal, stating if tolls are placed on I-80, those tolls could only be used for the interstate highway and not for other road projects.
The state Transportation Advisory Committee said Monday that Pennsylvania should increase spending by about $3.5 billion annually, saying the size and age of its infrastructure presented particular challenges. The committee's report warned the backlog of important projects was hampering the state's economy.
When the proposal was made to add tolls to Interstate 80, it was stated this would raise $350 million to $400 million in its first year. This is a far cry from $14 billion that PennDOT says it needs, so Rendell would have been sounding the panic alarm anyway.
Lawmakers must not over-react. Instead, they must start acting more responsibly.
One lawmaker proposed tolling some state roads. Don't we pay enough in gas taxes to use our highways? Such revenue would be gobbled up in paying to construct toll booths, paying people to man them, etc. The general taxpayer would be sucker-punched again if this came to fruition.
What's needed most is for PennDOT to evaluate its spending. Is too much being spent on engineering, legal fees, or supervisory fees? Are too many employees sent for simple pothole repairs or general roadwork? Is an evaluation needed of PennDOT's operations for efficiency?
Residents of Pennsylvania can't afford higher taxes. They already pay higher school taxes because school subsidies over the years have been reduced. We pay higher local taxes because of mandates by state agencies which get no state funding.
There's no question that the state has to do something to replace deteriorating bridges and improve state roads. But it has to be done systematically and with fiscal prudence.
There are studies upon studies upon studies on what has to be done. Maybe fewer studies and more action would save some bucks.
Our state government continues its all-around reckless spending. Our lawmakers are among the highest paid in the nation with among the finest perks.
The state must make some painful decisions regarding its budget. More taxes aren't the answer. Major spending cuts, including many in the executive branch, need to occur immediately. Maybe then more of our roads can be adequately repaired.
Taking a little pork off the menu might go a long way into solving not only highway woes, but the state's fiscal problems in general.
By Ron Gower