There is one thing that nearly everyone can agree on — Pennsylvania’s highways and bridges are in desperate need of repairs and upgrades.
There is also one thing that almost no one can agree on — how to pay for it.
That’s why we applaud Gov. Tom Wolf’s appointment of a commission to recommend alternatives to pay for the state’s transportation needs.
Because one thing is certain — the old ideas aren’t working.
The state has the second-highest gasoline tax in the nation and yet our roads were rated the fifth-worst in the nation, according to one recent study.
It’s obvious that Pennsylvania taxpayers aren’t getting much bang for the buck and that something needs to change.
The makeup of the commission: That’s where the commission will come in and hopefully develop some fresh ideas on how to fairly raise the cash.
It’s a tall task.
Wolf seeks overhaul of Pennsylvania’s highway funding
According to an Associated Press report, the commission will include several dozen lawmakers, transportation industry representatives, transportation planners, government officials and others to deliver recommendations by Aug. 1 of funding alternatives to foot the extra billions of dollars deemed to be necessary.
We like the idea that the recommendations are due in months, not years. Something must change, in a hurry.
Gas tax isn’t working: It’s becoming more obvious by the day that the gas tax is becoming obsolete.
With more electric cars, vehicles getting better gas mileage and more folks working from home, there’s less gas being used. Therefore, the money being derived from the gas tax can’t keep up with the money needed for fixing our infrastructure.
User fees and state police: User fees are being suggested to raise some of the cash needed for the upgrades.
PennDOT, for example, is seeking to add tolls to nine major bridges on interstates around the state to finance reconstruction projects. That idea is drawing objections from Republican lawmakers, but it does seem like a fair way to generate revenue. Those using the bridges would pay for much of the upgrades on those bridges.
Another idea that deserves definite consideration is weaning the state police budget off highway construction funds. One has nothing to do with the other. Twelve cents per gallon of the state tax goes to the state police budget.
It would be a much better idea if that money came from the municipalities that refuse to pay for their own local police coverage and instead rely on the state police for protection. That state police protection should come with a cost to those municipalities. Their free lunch must end.
Not an isolated example: Unfortunately, the state police example is not an isolated one.
Lawmakers, over the years, have peeled off almost half of the gas tax revenue for other purposes, such as 8 cents a gallon to local governments and 3 cents a gallon to the Department of Agriculture and other state agencies.
That needs to stop, too. A gas tax should be used to fix transportation infrastructure — period.
Infrastructure vital to the state economy: If Pennsylvania wants to remain competitive with nearby states when it comes to attracting new businesses, our roads and bridges must be competitive, as well.
Right now, we are falling woefully behind in that area.
Hopefully, the new commission can figure out some innovative ways to pay for our infrastructure needs.