John K. Manna
New Castle News
NEW CASTLE —
Motorists can expect to pay more for gasoline next year to help fund road and bridge improvements in Pennsylvania.
The only question is how much.
The increase Is a result of the elimination of the cap on the oil franchise tax over a five-year period. That elimination is part of the transportation funding measure signed into law last month by Gov. Tom Corbett.
Some analysts say the price of gasoline at the pump will increase by 28 cents over the five years as a result.
State Rep. Chris Sainato of Union Township, who voted against the bill, agrees with that forecast.
“This is a 28-cent gas tax,” he said. “It could be more than that. It’s going up a dime next year.”
However, Rich Kirkpatrick, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, said it is “difficult to predict what will happen at the pump.”
Sainato calls it the biggest tax increase he has seen in his 19 years in the House, adding he opposed the bill because of the gasoline tax’s effect locally.
Most people in Lawrence County rely on their vehicles to get around, primarily to get to work, he said.
“The whole burden falls upon these people, the people who drive to work everyday. Not everyone is sharing the burden. I look at it from a district perspective.”
“We’re not the big winners here. The urban centers are.”
He said 93 percent of the revenue for mass transit will be going to the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and to Pittsburgh.
Sen. Elder Vogel of New Sewickley Township, a co-sponsor of the bill in the Senate, said the average motorist will see some increase, spread over five years.
“It’s a necessary thing that needs to be done,” he said, noting bridges have been posted with weight restrictions.
People with large trucks have to drive longer distances to avoid the bridges, he said, thus ending up raising the price of products.
“We have a lot of school buses that travel over these bridges,” he added.
“Plus, fixing the roads is going to put less wear and tear on your vehicle.”
In addition to the gas tax increase, an assortment of fees — such as for vehicle registration and fines — will be raised to finance the transportation package.
The fees will be phased in over the next several years as well.
Kirkpatrick said that by the fifth year, the average driver probably will be paying $2.50 more per week. This includes increases in both the gasoline tax and the fees, he said.
The measure is projected to generate $2.3 billion to $2.4 billion a year by the fifth year.
Kirkpatrick said that by phasing in the tax and fee increases the state is “trying to be fair” while trying to “meet the tremendous needs.”
A look at the new fees
The increases in fees and fines under the new transportation funding law include:
•Passenger car registration will increase from $36 to $37 in 2015 and to $38 in 2017. After 2018, the increase will be indexed to inflation every two years thereafter.
•Driver’s license fees will increase from $21 to $22 in 2015 and to $23 in 2017. After 2018, the increase will be indexed to inflation every two years thereafter.
•A flat $150 fine, an increase of $125, will be imposed for failure to obey traffic control devices such as a stop sign, traffic light, speed limit sign or a one-way sign. However, no additional fines or surcharges will be levied for a conviction. Effective date is Jan. 1.
•Increases of 50 percent to seven existing surcharges on certain serious moving traffic violations. Effective date is Jan. 1.
•The fine for a lapse in insurance coverage remains at $300. Motorists would have the option to pay a $500 fee in lieu of a 90-day suspension of their vehicle registration. Effective date is Jan. 1, 2015.
•Option for counties to assess a $5 vehicle registration fee, with revenue going to county transportation projects. Effective date is Jan. 1, 2015.