Republican leaders in the Pennsylvania House are proposing major changes in a transportation-funding bill, raising alarms among SEPTA officials and other public-transit advocates.
The sweeping amendments to a Senate-approved transportation bill would eliminate many of the fee increases on motorists that were aimed at raising more money for public transit. The amendments would also require Philadelphia and other local governments to pay a higher share of the costs of transit and would allow counties to levy a $5-per-vehicle fee on local residents, as well as to raise sales taxes, realty-transfer taxes, and earned-income taxes.
The amendments would also permit the state transportation secretary to veto a transit agency's budget if it was not balanced. And the proposal would add an $8-per-day fee on car rentals at Philadelphia International Airport to raise money for a rental-car parking garage.
The amendments, which are to be presented to House Republicans on Monday, are being offered by Rep. Dick Hess (R., Bedford), chairman of the House Transportation Committee. The committee is to resume deliberations this week on a transportation-funding bill approved, 45-5, by the Senate on June 5. That measure was sponsored by Senate Transportation Committee Chairman John Rafferty (R., Montgomery).
The legislature and Gov. Corbett are struggling to increase funding for statewide transportation needs by next Sunday, the end of the current fiscal year. An advisory panel Corbett created in 2011 reported that transportation needs outstripped available funding in Pennsylvania by more than $3.5 billion a year.
The House Republican proposals would reduce the financial boost for transportation and increase the time it would take to raise the money. The Senate measure calls for $2.5 billion in additional funding for roads, bridges, airports, and transit within five years, while the House Republican amendments would generate an estimated $2 billion after 10 years.
SEPTA board chairman Pasquale T. "Pat" Deon, a Bucks County Republican leader, called the House Republican proposal "a step backwards," and he urged House members from Southeastern Pennsylvania to oppose the proposal.
"It does not come close to addressing even our most critical state-of-good-repair needs and is likely to create a near-term operating budget shortfall," Deon said Sunday. "With the amendment's reduced funding levels, no replacement for turnpike funding, increased local match for both operating and capital [budgets], and PennDot's ability to veto our budget, overall it would have a very negative impact on SEPTA."
Hess could not be reached for comment Sunday.
Stephen Miskin, spokesman for the House Republican leadership, said Sunday: "The Hess amendment was crafted in the reality of today - balancing the need for increased public transportation funding in what is a fragile economic recovery. While the latest jobs figures are up, it is simply too soon to know if the recovery is sticking from the Great Recession; we believe it would be impractical to impose fee and fine increases on Pennsylvanians.
"Our amendment will provide increased public transportation funding without increasing the fees households pay for their vehicles and without imposing draconian fines or surcharges on those who get traffic tickets," Miskin said.
The House Republican proposals would exempt local municipalities from the current requirement to pay highway workers the prevailing wage in a region.
The proposal would permit local governments to raise sales taxes, realty-transfer taxes, and earned-income taxes to pay for public transit. And it would require 10 percent of the bus routes in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to be offered to private operators.