What Pa. transportation bill will cost you

Posted: November 23, 2013

Pennsylvania motorists will feel the cost of the state's new transportation-funding plan at the gas pump and the driver's license center.

And if motorists run a stop sign or let their insurance lapse, they will pay more.

A typical driver can expect to pay $22 more a year in 2014 and $132 more by 2018, according to calculations made by Gov. Corbett's Transportation Funding Advisory Commission in 2011. The commission's recommendations formed the basis for the funding plan approved by the House and Senate this week.

That would amount to a 42-cents-a-week increase next year, and $2.54 a week by 2018.

(The commission assumed that the typical driver owns one vehicle, drives it 12,000 miles a year, and gets 24 miles per gallon.)

The new transportation measure will provide about $2.3 billion more a year by 2018 for better roads, safer bridges, and viable public transit. Next year, the amount will be considerably less, about $351 million, but it will increase each year.

The measure will create 50,000 jobs and preserve 12,000 existing jobs, the Corbett administration said.

Most of the additional money - about 82 percent - will come from higher gas taxes. Gas taxes in Pennsylvania were last increased in 1997.

The plan calls for the state to gradually remove the limit on the wholesale tax on gasoline (now capped at $1.25 per gallon, while the actual wholesale price is about $2.70 a gallon) and eliminate the current 12-cents-a-gallon retail gas tax.

Within five years, if wholesalers pass on the full increase to consumers, that could increase the gas tax by about 28 cents a gallon. That would boost the state gas tax from the current 31.2 cents a gallon to 59.2 cents by 2018.

Many drivers were not happy with the news Thursday.

"I feel sick about it. A lot of us don't make enough money to keep up with this," said Ruth Nobles, 54, of West Philadelphia, as she returned to her silver Chrysler Sebring after running an errand in Overbrook. "I know the roads need fixing. They have so many potholes. But -." She just shrugged.

Alyshia Boynton, 33, a medical technician who lives in Mount Airy, was livid about paying more.

"I lost my job in April. It took me months to find another one, and I can barely afford gas now. I don't care how they say they're going to phase it in," she said.

It costs about $55 to fill the tank of her Honda Accord, she said: "How are they going to keep raising prices when there are no . . . jobs?"

Mike Smaltz, 40, a fitness instructor who lives in Phoenixville, said paying more for gas would "suck," but compared with other industrialized nations, he said, gasoline here is a relative bargain.

"We pay less than $4" a gallon, he said, and places in "Europe and elsewhere pay $7."

He said he had no problem with higher fines for speeders: "You broke the law, so pay."

He wants Pennsylvania's broken roads fixed, he said, and added, "So we won't all need off-road vehicles to get around."

Joe Fullwood, 27, who owns Brake Check Philadelphia, an auto repair shop on Haverford Avenue near City Avenue, said, "People will pay [the higher costs] no matter what."

"It's like taxes on cigarettes and alcohol," he said. "They know people will just keep driving."

No other state has a gas tax as high as Pennsylvania's will be in five years. (California's is currently 53.2 cents per gallon, Hawaii is 50.3, New York 49.9, and Connecticut 49.3.) But it's likely that some other states will hike their gas taxes in the coming years.

New Jersey has one of the lowest gas taxes in the nation, at 14.5 cents a gallon (including the four-cents-a-gallon "petroleum products gross receipts tax"). It hasn't been raised since 1988, although Democratic lawmakers have recently raised the prospect of higher gas taxes to help pay for the state's growing transportation funding deficit.

The new Pennsylvania measure will also raise millions of dollars with higher fees on licenses, permits, and traffic tickets:

Registration fees for passenger vehicles, light trucks, and motorcycles will be increased by the amount of inflation, beginning in 2015.

Driver's license fees, except photo ID for nondrivers and probationary, occupational, and commercial driver's licenses, will remain at the current levels until all fees are indexed to inflation beginning in 2015.

The fine for "failure to obey traffic control devices," a common citation for drivers stopped for running a stop sign or other infraction, will increase from $25 to $150. However, surcharges now added to the existing $25 cannot be added to the new amount.

Motorists will be given the option of paying $500 in lieu of a three-month suspension for allowing their insurance to lapse.

Many opponents of the new transportation funding bill decried the higher costs to motorists, while supporters hailed the benefits to drivers and transit riders.

"Government can always make an argument to spend more money," Rep. Stephen Barrar (R., Delaware) said. "I could not find any support in my district for a gas-tax increase of this magnitude."

Rep. John Lawrence (R., Chester) also cited the gas-tax increase for opposing the measure.

Lawrence said "structurally deficient bridges are a real issue, and we have to focus on that," but said the price tag should be lower.

The motorists' organization, AAA Mid-Atlantic, praised the legislature's action, comparing it to similar funding measures approved this year in Virginia and Maryland.

"Pennsylvania's roads and bridges are crumbling, and in dire need. The fix won't be cheap, and the decisions aren't easy to make," AAA said.




Inquirer staff writer Michael Matza contributed to this article.

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