Gov. Rendell recently called for an increase in federal infrastructure funding, intimating that Washington isn't doing enough to fund the repair of our roads and bridges.
However, Washington returns $1.15 for every dollar Pennsylvania pays into the Federal Highway Trust Fund; a deal most states would love to have.
Washington isn't to blame for the sorry state of affairs of Pennsylvania's roads and bridges. The state legislature and the governor are.
Lawmakers in Harrisburg have been pillaging roads and bridges money to pay for debts incurred by mass transit and other programs, which should be paid from fees and general revenues.
Since 2003, $412 million in federal money for repair and maintenance of our state's roads and bridges has been diverted by the governor to fund mass transit in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
The state legislature has also had its hand in the roads and bridges cookie jar. For years, Harrisburg has raided the motor license fund, transferring more than $1 billion to the state police, Department of Weights and Measures, and tourism programs over two years. This money is supposed to be spent on roads and bridges.
How do the governor and the state legislature pay for their billion-dollar plunder of the roads and bridges account? By the passage of Act 44, which calls for tolling I-80. Perhaps by fate, Act 44 was the same bill number that brought us the notorious 2006 state pay raise.
Fortunately, since the taxpayers of the United States and I-80 users have already paid for the interstate, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) must determine if the tolling request meets established criteria. One of which is that the money collected must be used for I-80, not mass transit programs.
Fortunately for the economic future of Pennsylvania, the low hanging fruit of rural I-80 looks like it is the "forbidden fruit" and out of reach of Act 44.
The I-80 tolling plan submitted last October to DOT by the anointed manager - the patronage polluted Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission - was returned to the commission in December for being grossly inadequate.
After seven months, and millions spent on public-relations firms and lobbyists, the commission finally resubmitted the application. If the commission answered the DOT's questions truthfully, odds are against its approval. A big if when it comes to the commission.
To his credit, Rendell, as an alternative to Act 44, has proposed that the turnpike be leased and the money be used to pay for the state's transportation needs.
The lease would bring in $12 billion debt free, versus $21 billion in debt (bonds, plus interest) for the Act 44, I-80 plan. A no-brainer, except it would result in the demise of the turnpike commission and control by the leadership in Harrisburg of thousands of political-patronage jobs.
The governor has also recently sent a letter of support to the DOT for the resubmitted I-80 application. Being on both sides of the issue, this will allow Rendell to declare victory no matter the outcome.
A recent Forbes Magazine ranking of "The Best States to Do Business In" listed Pennsylvania 41st out of 50.
With major policy decisions being made in Harrisburg without any economic analyses or public input, such as tolling I-80, we expect a Forbes rating of number 50 in the not too distant future.
Let's hope that Washington forces our elected leaders in Harrisburg to finally choose good policy over parochial politics by rejecting the Act 44 scheme of tolling I-80.