Is PA Traveling to the Promised Land?

ASSOCIATED PRESS Gov. Corbett's transportation proposal has been replaced by one twice as expensive.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Gov. Corbett's transportation proposal has been replaced by one twice as expensive.
Posted: April 18, 2013

FINALLY, we have an ambitious, comprehensive, mind-blowingly expensive transportation plan, or I should say, another one.

This one would fix state roads and bridges, better fund SEPTA, help the port, build more bike paths and traffic lanes, improve freight and passenger rail service and generally make all modes of travel in the commonwealth like a little slice of heaven.

The price tag, I'm sorry, I mean the investment is huge.

It's more than $11 billion over five years. That's more than double the investment that Gov. Corbett proposed back in February.

(It's very important, especially to Republicans, that you remember this does not involve a tax increase. It involves fee increases. And uncapping a wholesale tax, which is definitely not a tax. It's a cap.)

The new plan is from Senate Republicans with bipartisan support.

Transportation funding is a giant issue that, unlike the pension crisis or privatizing booze, can win support from both ends of the ideological spectrum.

It's a safety issue, a jobs issue and a pro-business issue widely described as a "core function" of government. So something should get done.

But when you see a governor propose core-function funding, it likely reflects what's actually needed. When you see lawmakers propose such funding, it likely reflects what can pass - meaning it's padded to give everybody something.

This plan was offered Tuesday by Senate Transportation Committee Chairman John Rafferty, R-Montco, at a Capitol news conference. He said the state no longer can ignore transportation needs.

He was surrounded by a mosh-pit of supporters from the Legislature, chambers of commerce, business, labor, engineering firms, transit groups, etc.

And he was joined by Corbett's transportation secretary, Barry Schoch, who, although not offering a blanket endorsement, said the administration is "open to it."

Rafferty wants a committee vote soon and passage in June.

Although Senate passage of at least something close to this seems likely, it faces a rougher road in the more fiscally conservative House because of its cost.

What would it cost you?

That's really unclear. It would, like the governor's plan, raise fees for vehicle registration and driver's licenses.

Rafferty's proposal hikes basic license fees from $29.50 (good for four years) to $50.50 (good for six years); registration jumps from $36 per year to $104 for two years.

But since the bulk of new funding comes from lifting the cap on the Oil Company Franchise Tax, a fuels tax paid by gas stations, it is also likely (read: certain) that pump prices will jump for motorists.

When asked what it would cost an average motorist if fee and gas-tax changes are adopted, Schoch said $2.50 or $2.60 per week ($130 or $135 per year).

But that's under the governor's plan, which, as mentioned, is half the price of the Senate plan. So you do the math.

There's good news for SEPTA. The state's 36 transit agencies would pull $1.5 billion in new money over five years. Because of its size and passenger pool, SEPTA gets the lion's share.

But one source of new SEPTA funding seems certain to cause controversy.

Rafferty proposes socking all moving violations with a fat $100 surcharge.

In other words, a speeding ticket costing you $150 would actually cost you $250.

All of the new fine-surcharge money would go to mass transit. It's estimated at $75 million in the first year alone.

Maybe I'm nuts, but it's hard to see rural lawmakers whose constituents drive everywhere willing to funnel a ton of new cash - garnered from those who get caught driving too fast - into Philly to fund bus and train rides.

Bottom line: This plan signals something big is coming. And, unless you walk everywhere, you'll be investing in it.


Email: baerj@phillynews.com

Blog: philly.com/BaerGrowls

Columns: philly.com/JohnBaer

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