HARRISBURG - A top Senate Republican unveiled a $2.5 billion transportation-funding bill aimed at repairing thousands of aging bridges and miles of roads while pumping more money into public transit.
The plan announced by Transportation Committee Chairman John Rafferty (R., Montgomery) on Tuesday ups the ante on Gov. Corbett's more modest $1.8 billion proposal to address the state's infrastructure problems.
"Pennsylvania is at a crossroads, and we must take action now," Rafferty said at a packed news conference in the Capitol. "We simply cannot continue to ignore these pressing needs, which are directly related to public safety and economic development."
To pay for it, Rafferty wants to increase driver's license and vehicle-registration fees, and put a hefty surcharge on speeders and others who violate traffic laws.
Rafferty's and Corbett's plans both call for lifting the cap on the oil-franchise tax to raise revenue, and would reduce the flat tax on retail gasoline sales by two cents a gallon.
All told, the fee increases would cost the average Pennsylvania driver an additional $2.50 a week or $130 a year, Rafferty and other officials said.
"This is a good beginning point," said Barry Schoch, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, who was among dozens of people at the event, including Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware) and representatives of transportation, construction, and business groups.
While Schoch stopped short of saying he endorsed the plan, he said the bill's introduction would "ratchet up the dialogue" toward solving a problem that has been "building for decades."
PennDot says repairs are needed on 4,400 bridges and 23 percent of the state's 44,000 miles of roads.
Rep. Mike McGeehan of Philadelphia, the ranking Democrat on the Transportation Committee, said at the news conference that Democratic support in the House was critical because of anticipated opposition by antitax House Republicans.
The changes would boost Pennsylvania's gas tax from the current 32 cents per gallon to 58 cents by the end of five years if the full wholesale increase were passed on to motorists at the pump.
That's in addition to the fee increases for driver's licenses and registration and a $100 surcharge on drivers with moving violations.
Antitax guru Grover Norquist weighed in on the Corbett oil franchise tax plan in January, proclaiming it a tax increase.
Noting Rafferty's estimate that the plan would cost the average motorist about $2.50 a week, Sen. John Wozniak of Cambria County, the ranking Democrat on the Transportation Committee, put it this way: "What means more to you, a safe modern highway system or a bottle of beer?"
Efforts to reach the Pennsylvania Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association for comment were unsuccessful.
The bill also sets aside $100 million a year or more for 36 transit systems, including those in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh as well as smaller municipalities and rural areas.
Under the Corbett plan, transit agencies would receive $40 million in the first year while highway and bridge funding is boosted by $470 million. By the fifth year, transit funding would be increased by $250 million.
The Rafferty plan directs $115 million in additional funding for airports, ports, rail lines, and cycling lanes and walkways.
Cycling groups and healthy living advocates, such as the American Heart Association, applauded the bill's targeted funding to encourage biking and walking.
"This bill for the first time takes into account all the needs of those who use roads, not just cars and trucks," said Ed Krebs, a former state lawmaker and a member of the Lebanon Valley Cycling Club who arrived at the news conference in his cycling gear. "It says there are growing transportation choices across the state."