Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
The Rx for roads
In our view
Pennsylvanians are not happy about a possible gas tax increase in Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed transportation budget.
Nor should they be: It doesn't go far enough to address the problem.
Calling transportation the "bloodstream" of the state's economy, Corbett made a pitch to fix the state's roads and bridges by removing the oil company franchise tax to allow it to rise by 28.5 cents over the next five years. Part, if not all of that amount, likely would be passed along to motorists.
The announcement evoked a strong reaction from motorists who say they cannot afford an increase at the gas pump. In fact, federal government data released the day before Corbett announced his budget show that the average U.S. household paid $2,912 for gasoline in 2012 -- or roughly 4 percent of the average family's gross income.
If motorists were displeased by the announcement, many lawmakers were not. Their reaction was muted -- except for the few groans that were heard when Corbett insisted the change was not a tax increase -- because they understand what needs to be done.
The average bridge in Pennsylvania is 51 years old. More than 4,000 of those spans are structurally deficient. Additionally, 10,000 miles of roads require repairs.
Corbett's proposal would enable the state to earmark an additional $5 billion toward fixing the state's roads and bridges over the next five years.
Here's the sad reality: That's less than what his own blue ribbon panel recommended and half of what the state transportation department says is needed to cut into the backlog.
Experts say that fixing the state's roads and bridges will cost $4.5 billion annually. PennDOT officials, however, have said they could get by with $2.5 billion per year and, at the same time, begin to whittle away at the growing backlog of deficient roads and bridges. That amounts to $12.5 billion over the next five years, not $5 billion. Any less than that compounds the problem over time.
Corbett did go along with the panel's proposal to replace Pennsylvania's current annual vehicle registration with a two-year registration, and the current four-year driver's license with a six-year license. Fees would be adjusted accordingly: Drivers would pay $72 every two years instead of $36 a year for registration, and $44.25 every six years for driver's license renewal instead of $29.50 every four years. The state would save on paperwork and bureaucratic costs.
Although this budget represents a step in the right direction, it also is a missed opportunity. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that transportation needs must be addressed.
Said state Rep. Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster: "(Increasing the) gas tax may be necessary to have better roads and bridges in Pennsylvania."
But Sturla also said Corbett should not cloak it as anything other than a tax increase. "Call it what it is," he said.
And, we might add, make the argument that such a tax is necessary to keep this economic bloodstream flowing.
That's a hard pill for most of us to swallow, but it's the old "pay now, or pay later" argument. And paying later is going to cost a whole lot more.