Three competing transportation-funding plans are being considered by Harrisburg, but only one would go the distance to finally put Pennsylvania within reach of repairing aging bridges and roads while boosting aid to SEPTA and other critically needed transit systems linking communities across the state.
A state Senate-approved plan that would raise $2.5 billion should be the basis for a long-awaited agreement to fund state transportation needs. Unfortunately, though, while Gov. Corbett and Republican legislative leaders appear to share a desire to properly maintain bridges and roads, whose upkeep has been pegged by successive studies at billions of dollars annually, they haven't agreed on the right approach.
A more modest transportation package envisioned by the governor would pull in only about $1.8 billion annually by its fifth year. That's well short of meeting the need, given the state's 6,000 deteriorating bridges alone.
Both the governor and the Senate proposal's principal sponsor, Transportation Committee Chairman John Rafferty (R., Montgomery), would hike fees on motorists, tack on surcharges for speeding and other traffic violations, and allow the wholesale price of gasoline to float up. The gas-price shift would appear at the pump, but it's likely that it would hardly be felt by motorists already paying more than $3 a gallon.
By contrast, a House plan revealed Monday would drop the fee increases for motorists, slap car-rental customers at Philadelphia International Airport with an additional $8-a-day fee, and leave transit funding completely up in the air.
To support mass transit, GOP House leaders would leave it up to local officials to levy other fees and tax increases. (Presumably, that's so local officials would have to take the political heat, rather than Harrisburg.)
The conservative House seems to be in thrall to tea-party forces these days. One representative has even described transit aid as "just more welfare." With that attitude, it's no surprise that there's less than meets the eye to that chamber's transportation plan. But it's just as clear that the House plan would fall far short of funding the state's needs.
By contrast, the Senate package, approved by a vote of 45-5 earlier this month, stands out for being robust and offering plausible revenue measures to raise desperately needed transportation funds. Even the governor's inadequate approach to funding Pennsylvania's transportation needs is far more realistic than the House's