Commuters and businesses can't afford for legislators to ignore Gov. Rendell's call to raise at least $1 billion more for roads, bridges, and mass transit. The state's transportation network is badly underfunded.
Pennsylvania has the most structurally deficient bridges in the nation - 5,646. About 10,000 miles of state roads are also in poor condition, and many capital-improvement projects have been postponed at dozens of mass-transit agencies across the state.
Deficient roads and bridges pose a public-safety hazard, and they cost car owners for wear and tear on their vehicles. Increased congestion causes businesses and commuters to sit in traffic an extra 38 hours per year - a work week.
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Chester) asked PennDOT Secretary Allen Biehler why he's requesting only $1 billion per year when the state really needs $3.5 billion. Biehler replied that $1 billion would be a "good start." That's a diplomatic way of saying it's pure fantasy to expect the legislature in an election year to come up with more, when it resists raising even $50 million by taxing cigars.
Rendell would raise the money by imposing an 8 percent tax on the profits of oil companies, which avoid paying their fair share of the state's corporate income tax by locating their headquarters out of state. The governor also would raise about 60 motor-vehicle fees, including registration (from $36 to $49), driver's license ($28 to $32), and certificate of title ($22.50 to $31).
Rendell didn't propose raising the state's 31-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax, but that would be the fairest way to get revenue. A 4-cent increase would raise nearly $250 million, largely paid by people who use the roads heavily, including out-of-state truckers.
Rather than address the funding problem before Election Day, many legislators want to wait until a possible lame-duck session, when their courage might return. Others want to put it off until next year, when Republican Tom "No New Taxes" Corbett might be governor and shield them from tough choices.
A bipartisan commission recommended in 2006 that the state raise an extra $1.7 billion per year to fund transportation needs. The legislature responded with Act 44, which was supposed to provide nearly $1 billion per year. But about half the funding was to be generated by placing tolls on Interstate 80, a move rejected by the federal government.