New Castle News

June 15, 2013

John K. Manna: New ways needed to cover transportation improvements

John K. Manna
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Nobody can dispute the fact that bridges throughout the United States and Pennsylvania are on the verge of falling apart.

Plus, roads continually need to be repaired or replaced.

So, in Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Corbett developed a $1.8 billion-a-year transportation plan for bridges, highways and mass transit. The state Senate, by a 45-5 vote, approved a slightly more ambitious plan of $2.5 billion last week. The House has yet to put its imprint on transportation funding.

State Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch estimates the governor’s plan would cost the average motorist who drives 12,000 miles a year about $2.50 more per week. The Senate plan would increase the cost to $3, he says.

Under both Corbett’s and the Senate’s plans, the $1.25 cap on the oil company franchise tax would be phased out, adding 28.5 cents per wholesale gallon of gasoline.

The Senate bill goes a bit further, increasing vehicle registration fees from the current $36 for one year to $104 for two years. Driver’s licenses, now costing $29.50 and valid for four years, would increase to $50.50 and be valid for six years.

A $100 surcharge would also be imposed on drivers who violate traffic laws such as speeding, and fines would be increased for failure to obey traffic control devices.

While the increase in the cost for vehicle registration would go up by a net of $32 — a whopping 44 percent increase — imagine receiving a bill in the mail for $104 compared to $36 now.

And that gets to the heart of the matter: Providing the necessary transportation funding, particularly for roads and bridges.

Historically, motorists have paid for highway improvements through gasoline taxes, driver’s licenses and registration fees. Obviously, since motorists are the ones using the roads and the ones responsible for wear and tear, they naturally should be the ones footing the bill.

However, these aren’t normal times and these certainly aren’t the kind of fee increases that motorists are accustomed to, even though the transportation improvements are long overdue.

How much more of a burden can Pennsylvania motorists take on and should they bear all of the burden?

The gasoline tax increase — while significant — would be paid not only by Pennsylvania motorists, but also by anyone traveling through the state.

The license and registration fees are another matter. Why shouldn’t people other than motorists bear some of the burden since everyone benefits from safer bridges and highways?

This would require some revolutionary thinking by legislators: Having some of the costs shared by everyone either through the income or sales tax in addition to fees paid by motorists.

It’s not only about fairness, but the fact that every citizen has a stake in this.