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PA gets thumbs up from Moody's for passing transport package

New funding will help with repairs to this and other weight-restricted bridges. (Clem Murray / Staff Photographer)
New funding will help with repairs to this and other weight-restricted bridges. (Clem Murray / Staff Photographer)Read more

HARRISBURG – Plenty of people took issue with a new transportation funding package that will fix the state's roads and bridges but lead to Pennsylvania motorists paying increased fees and likely higher prices at the pump.

Moody's, though, thinks it's pretty good news.

While Pennsylvania's credit rating and outlook didn't change when Gov. Tom Corbett signed the legislation into law, the transportation initiative did garner a "credit positive" from Moody's, one of the big three credit rating agencies. That's because the $2.3 billion spending package "provides a new and recurring revenue stream to address the state's large backlog of transportation improvement and maintenance projects," Moody's indicated Tuesday.

Moody's also liked that the law addresses funding issues for SEPTA and the Port Authority of Allegheny County in Pittsburgh, while phasing out an unfunded annual payment from the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

"Moody's recognizes what we have been saying all along – this much-needed investment in our transportation infrastructure is crucial not just to public safety but economic development as well," said state Sen. John Rafferty, the Republican chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.

That came at a price, though.

While eliminating the 12-cents-a-gallon retail tax that motorists pay at the pump, the transportation law will further tax fuel at the wholesale level to help pay for improvements to the state's deteriorating roads and bridges.

The possibility of that tax hike being passed along to motorists sparked opposition from some lawmakers, while others also contended the law also includes so-called "walking-around money" for legislative pet projects.

Vehicle registration and drivers' licenses fees would also increase, with those cost increases and the tax hike phased in over five years. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation anticipates the average driver will pay $2.50 more in weekly fuel costs by the final year.

Activist Gene Stilp even brought his giant inflatable pig out of retirement to protest the measure earlier this week.

Andrew Staub is a reporter for PA Independent and can be reached at  Follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.

Pennsylvania Independent is a public interest journalism project dedicated to promoting open, transparent, and accountable state government by reporting on the activities of agencies, bureaucracies, and politicians in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It is funded by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a libertarian nonprofit organization.