New Castle News

October 11, 2013

Our Opinion: Will Legislature boost funding? Will the public buy it?

By Staff
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — It’s uncertain whether the Pennsylvania House will pass a bill to boost transportation spending next week.

Plenty of people in and out of government hope it does. We’re not sure many motorists feel the same way, as general proposals call for changes that will effectively boost the price of gasoline in the commonwealth by about 25 cents per gallon.

The precise figure is a work in progress and may not even pass. Right now, there is a lot of angling and jockeying, wheeling and dealing on the details.

Generally speaking, Democrats want the plan, while Republicans are hesitant, despite strong calls from Gov. Tom Corbett to boost transportation funding. Republicans don’t want to be accused of raising gas taxes, and the plan put forth by the governor technically increases fees on service stations, not on pump prices.

But for the typical consumer, there’s no real difference.

In an effort to boost GOP support for the measure — necessary because Republicans control the House — proposals are being made to ease prevailing wage rules for transportation projects. Presumably, that would reduce the cost of transportation projects, but draws the ire of labor unions. That, in turn, hurts Democratic support for the transportation plan.

Perhaps some sort of agreement can be reached to get a piece of legislation through the House. If so, there’s a good chance the Senate will adopt it and Corbett has said he will sign anything sent to his desk. The governor is concerned funding for road and bridge maintenance is drying up in the commonwealth, and this will lead to a variety of harmful consequences.

Among these are additional weight restrictions on commonwealth bridges. Over the summer, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation lowered weight limits on about 1,000 bridges throughout the state, including several in Lawrence County. These types of restrictions are particularly burdensome to businesses that have to detour heavier loads as a result.

Of course, we can’t help but wonder whether these tougher weight restrictions were necessary, or merely convenient. Were they the result of inspections that determined the lower limits were necessary? Or were they arbitrary estimates deemed useful in getting lawmakers to vote for additional transportation spending? We hope legislators explore these questions.

We also think that any transportation spending program ought to consider merging the transportation department and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. We note the former inspector general of the turnpike commission made that recommendation last month, citing continuing problems with patronage and corruption in the turnpike system.

Lawmakers who simply boost gas prices without showing citizens a measure of fiscal accountability may have some explaining to do in the next election.