Highway bill moves to Corbett
Gov. Tom Corbett plans to sign into law next week a massive transportation bill that will raise $2.4 billion over the next five years to repair Pennsylvania's crumbling bridges and highways, shore up mass transit and pump money into air, rail and other projects.
"Today is a landmark day for Pennsylvania," Corbett said late Thursday. "This bold transportation plan demonstrates that our elected officials are serious about keeping our residents safe and our economy strong. The lawmakers who voted for this legislation have said, 'yes' to our state's future, and I thank each lawmaker whose yes vote will keep Pennsylvania moving."
Corbett spoke after the House voted 113-85 to concur with the Senate amendments the funding component of the bill. Local lawmakers who opposed the move were Doyle Heffley, R-Carbon; Neal Goodman, D-Schuylkill; Julie Harhart, R-Lehigh-Northampton; Rosemary Brown, R-Monroe-Pike; Mike Tobash, R-Schuylkill; Jerry Knowles, R-Schuylkill; and Mike Carroll, D-Luzerne-Monroe.
Knowles and Heffley said the gas tax increase drove their votes.
"People didn't elect me to implement the largest gas tax increase in the history of Pennsylvania," Knowles said. "People just can't afford it at this time. They are struggling to make ends meet."
Knowles also pointed to the numerous increases in transportation-related fees that are included in the bill. He would have pared the cost by narrowing the focus of the bill to roads and bridges.
He opposes "sending hundreds of millions of dollars to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. And it just drives me crazy to see money in there for bike trails. we now spend some $6.7 billion on transportation. That's a lot of money. The easy way out for government always seems to be to raise taxes. It seems like no matter how often they do that, there's never enough money."
"There were too many negative aspects to this bill, including an additional gas tax consumers would pay at the pump, along with a number of increases in taxes and fees for motorists. I am well aware of the need to address our transportation infrastructure, but this bill just wasn't the right proposal, in my opinion, to appropriately fund these needs. This bill could have (gone) further in reforming our state's transportation spending, to find more efficient ways to fix our bridges and roads. To add even more spending, funded on the backs of our taxpayers, is just not acceptable," he said.
Sen. John Wozniak of Cambria County, the ranking Democrat on the Transportation Committee, on Wednesday defended the gas tax in a speech to fellow lawmakers."Yes, to the citizens of Pennsylvania, we are going to be asking you to dig deeper into your pockets," he said. "We are not happy about it, but we have the responsibility to govern and to make difficult decisions. It has been almost 15 years since any gasoline taxes in Pennsylvania have been raised. I don't think there is any place in the private sector that has not raised their prices in 15 years."
Rep. Mario Scavello, R-Monroe, voted in favor of the funding. He cited the estimated 50,000 jobs that are expected to be created as a result of the bill, and the 12,000 jobs that could have been lost had the bill not passed.
"We have bridges all over my district with cracked concrete and exposed steel," he said. "With large trucks and school buses passing over our roads and bridges every day, it is unacceptable not to act to fix them.
"Over the past decade, the money the state receives from gas taxes has dwindled, due to motorists driving more fuel-efficient vehicles," Scavello said. "In that same time, the cost to repair our bridges and roads has doubled."
The bill also calls for the state Department of Transportation to pare $1 billion in spending over the next decade.
The funding portion of the bill hesitated Monday as House members twice rejected it, then on Tuesday finally passed it. The Senate approved it on Wednesday, then sent it to the House to approve adding the funding component to the transportation bill.
Over the next five years, the bill is expected to generate $2.4 billion, about 80 percent through gas tax revenue.
By the fifth year, the plan would invest $1.3 billion each year into state road and bridges; $480-$495 million into public transportation, mostly in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh; $237 million into local roads and bridges; $144 million into an intermodal fund; $30 million for dirt, gravel, and low-volume roadways; and $86 million for turnpike expansion projects.