A planned $1 increase in Delaware River bridge tolls would be postponed for a year under a resolution offered Monday by a board member of the Delaware River Port Authority.
The resolution by board member and Philadelphia labor leader John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty calls for the DRPA to use unspent economic-development funds to offset the loss of the anticipated income from higher tolls.
The resolution, placed on the agenda for the DRPA board's Wednesday meeting, would push back a scheduled $1 toll increase until at least July 1, 2012.
A $1 toll hike is scheduled to go into effect July 1 on the DRPA's four bridges: Ben Franklin, Walt Whitman, Betsy Ross and Commodore Barry.
Originally, the toll increase was to take place in September, but it was delayed for 10 months when the DRPA board reallocated $8 million in economic-development funds last December.
Dougherty wants the board to make a similar shift of unspent economic-development money to further delay the toll increase.
A $1 toll increase would raise about $50 million a year. The DRPA has about $54.5 million in unspent economic-development funds, according to DRPA records.
The money was allocated over the last three years to recipients ranging from South Jersey food banks to local counties, as well as for undetermined "special projects," but the funds have not been spent.
Some of the money is waiting for designated work to happen - such as the construction of the President's House memorial near Independence Hall and the reopening of the long-dormant PATCO Franklin Square subway station - and some is waiting for recipients to figure out how to spend it.
Board Chairman John Estey has said he would not support further delays in the toll increase because bond-rating agencies have warned that such a move could hurt the DRPA's financial ratings. Estey noted that Gov.-elect Tom Corbett might have a different view when he installs his appointees on the DRPA board in January.
Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner, a member of the DRPA board, earlier this month called on the DRPA to halt all economic-development spending. He said there "may be far better uses for some or all of these funds, such as reducing the authority's debt burden and/or toll amounts charged to the traveling public."
Wagner will bring his request for a spending freeze to the board Wednesday.
Many commuters have long objected to the DRPA's use of tolls for economic-development projects, such as sports stadiums, museums, and concert halls.
In the last 12 years, the DRPA has spent about $500 million on economic development, contributing to a debt of $1.4 billion, which consumes about 40 percent of the agency's revenue.
Dougherty's resolution says, "If a significant percentage of the $54.5 million in unspent dollars were rolled back into the bridge maintenance budget, there would be no need to increase tolls by $1 for at least another year."
"The toll-paying citizens of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, many of whom cross the DRPA's bridges on a daily basis during the course of their work, are struggling financially in the midst of the worst national economy since the Great Depression. They simply cannot afford to pay an additional dollar every time they cross one of the DRPA's four bridges - nor should they have to bear this additional financial burden," the resolution says.
It calls for 10 percent of the unspent economic-development money to be set aside for ongoing projects and 90 percent to be "given serious board consideration for reallocation for bridge maintenance, thereby negating the need for a $1 bridge toll increase in 2011."
The DRPA board will meet at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Camden County Boathouse, 7050 N. Park Dr., Pennsauken.