Pa. Senate passes $2.5 billion transportation bill

Posted: June 07, 2013

HARRISBURG - The state Senate approved a $2.5 billion transportation-funding bill Wednesday, aimed at repairing thousands of aging bridges and miles of roads while pumping more money into transit, setting the stage for a fight over the bill's fate in the House.

The plan, championed by Transportation Committee Chairman John Rafferty (R., Montgomery), ups the ante on the $1.8 billion proposal Gov. Corbett unveiled in February to address the state's infrastructure problems.

Rafferty's bill, was approved on a 45-5 vote, would increase driver's license and vehicle-registration fees, and put a hefty surcharge on speeders and others who violate traffic laws. Like Corbett's plan, the bill would also lift the cap on the oil-franchise tax to raise revenue, and reduce the per-gallon flat tax at the pump by two cents a gallon.

Though it received overwhelming support Wednesday in the Senate by both Democrats and Republicans, the issue remains controversial in the Capitol and faces an uncertain future in the House.

A number of House members, including many conservative Republicans, have questioned the price tag and wondered whether the amount being dedicated is necessary to improve the state's transportation infrastructure. Legislators, many facing reelection next year, also worry about backlash over raising fees on motorists, a move likely to be branded by opponents as a tax increase.

Before the vote, Rafferty urged his colleagues to show political courage and vote for what he called "a core function of government . . . looking out for the health, welfare and safety" of Pennsylvania residents.

"Do not let fear for what could happen make nothing happen," he said.

Rafferty noted that doing nothing would end up costing taxpayers more in lost jobs and other revenue, and put an effective stop order on projects in the works.

"There will be no new additions to transportation in Pennsylvania, just maintenance," he warned.

The five senators who voted against it included Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams (D., Phila.), who said he did not want to vote for a measure that many have said will end up costing motorists more at the pump - this while he is pushing for more money for Philadelphia's cash-strapped schools as well as asking fellow legislators to allow City Hall to create a $2-a-pack cigarette tax, also to help schools.

"I have to exercise some practical thought about who is paying for all this and how they are going to pay for it," Williams said.

Under the bill, the lion's share of money, about $1.9 billion a year, would go toward highways and bridges. Roughly $500 million a year would go to mass transit, including funding to help them convert their fleets to alternative fuels. About $115 million would be shared among airports, ports, rail freight, and walking and biking routes.

If signed into law, motorists would pay $50.50 for a driver's license that would be valid for six years, instead of the $29.50 they pay now for one that lasts four years, and they would pay $104 for their vehicle registration every two years, instead of $36 annually.

Drivers who violate traffic laws, such as speeding or running a red light, would also face a $100 surcharge on tickets, as well as an increase in fines for failure to obey traffic-control devices from $25 to a sliding scale of $100 to $300.


Contact Angela Couloumbis at 717-787-5934 or acouloumbis@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @AngelasInk.

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