New Castle News

June 6, 2013

Our Opinion: Pennsylvania has transportation needs, but plan has problems

By Staff
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Spending money on transportation projects is a popular political pastime.

After all, what’s not to like about programs that create jobs and make driving smoother and safer? Yes, construction is an inconvenience, but generally, the public understands it’s necessary for the greater good.

So it is that the Pennsylvania Senate voted 45-5 yesterday for a new transportation funding program. The bipartisan support reflects both a real need for bridge and road repairs in the commonwealth, but also the sense the public will accept the results.

But we’re not so sure, because here are the results: This plan will impose additional fees on fuel providers that equate to a 28.5-cent-per-gallon boost in gasoline prices at the pump. There also will be boosts in license and registration fees, as well as additional traffic fines.

We suspect that plenty of people won’t take kindly to these increases, particularly to a sudden jump in gasoline prices. Public support for transportation improvements could erode drastically if citizens fail to see benefits that offset what they are paying in additional costs.

So senators could be taking a risky political stance here. On the other hand, this may be a typical example of the way the Legislature frequently operates, with one chamber easily approving a measure, while the other is obliged to contend with the larger consequences.

And indeed, there are indications the House isn’t as inclined to embrace this plan, worried about the costs and taxpayer reaction.

Our view is that there is a need for beefing up Pennsylvania’s transportation funding. And the expense inevitably will fall upon the public.

But is the Senate plan necessary in full? The end result would make Pennsylvania’s gas tax one of the highest in the nation. The House may scale back this increase when it reviews the legislation.

Meanwhile, we can’t help but wonder what effort was put into the idea of controlling costs. In particular, Pennsylvania continues to have a dual transportation system with both PennDOT and the Turnpike Commission.

A contractor scandal at the Turnpike Commission, where several former officials are facing criminal charges, should have prompted a serious review of the existing system with an eye toward consolidation. That hasn’t happened.

But if the Legislature is looking to taxpayers for big increases in revenue, doesn’t it have a responsibility to consider ways to control costs as part of the package?

We think so. Anything less amounts to a failure of leadership in Harrisburg. Gov. Tom Corbett and the Legislature need to make that part of the equation. And if they don’t, taxpayers must remind them.