New Castle News

Closer Look

November 23, 2013

John K. Manna: State finally has road, bridge repair plan

NEW CASTLE — Pennsylvania finally has a program in place to fix roads and bridges and provide more money for mass transit.

The massive undertaking — pushed by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett — will cost about $2.3 million per year, most of which will be paid by motorists in the form of increases in gas prices at the pump and fees.

Despite bipartisan support, including that of former Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, there was much opposition to the legislation approved this week because of the costs being passed on to motorists.

Interestingly, Lawrence County’s three House members opposed the measure while the two Senate members voted in favor.

Rep. Chris Sainato said residents in his district log lots of driving miles and would bear the greatest brunt of the cost of the plan. He noted that the plan includes new construction and said he would rather see the state repairing new roads and bridges than building new ones.

Rep. Jaret Gibbons said the tax increase will hit local businesses “harshly,” and “will surely be passed on to the consumer.”

How much more motorists will pay at the pump is speculation right now. Some of the money to finance projects will come from the gradual lifting of the cap on the oil franchise tax paid by fuel distributors. It has been calculated that this ultimately could raise the tax paid by motorists to about 58 cents per gallon, which would be the highest in the country.

One legislator from central Pennsylvania said that when there is an issue, the Legislature reaches into the pockets of the taxpayer.

That’s a somewhat ridiculous comment since taxpayers are ultimately responsible for practically everything government does.

Nobody wants to raise taxes, but what’s the alternative? Lots of bridges have been ignored for years and are on the verge of falling apart. However, there is no doubt that motorists will end up paying a hefty price.

In a previous piece, I questioned why motorists should be the only ones to pay for transportation improvements when all taxpayers benefit from safer bridges and highways. But legislators aren’t about to raise the income or sales tax so that everyone can share the burden.

If there’s a lesson to be learned, it’s this for governors and legislators in the future: Don’t allow highway problems to languish for years. Then, motorists won’t be faced with such a huge bill.

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