State road funding draws questions
State road funding draws questions BY DAN NEPHIN, Staff Writer
Pennsylvania's deputy secretary of highway administration pushed Gov. Tom Corbett's $5.4 million transportation budget and talked about how the agency is becoming more efficient at a Lancaster Chamber of Commerce & Industry talk.
Local legislators, however, weren't sold on the plan.
PennDOT has made strides under Corbett, such as reducing the number of structurally deficient bridges from one in six to one in four, Scott Christie said Thursday.
As examples of improving efficiency, he said the agency wants to shift automobile registration renewals to every two years instead of annually and make drivers licenses valid for six years instead of four.
Permitting also has been streamlined, he said. And PennDOT wants to privatize the 511 traveler information system to generate money through advertising.
A major feature of Corbett's budget proposal is the elimination, over five years, of the $1.25-per-gallon cap on which the oil company franchise tax is collected.
That would provide for bringing in $1.8 billion for roads and bridges by the fifth year, Christie said.
Attending lawmakers responded that transportation needs more money and suggested uncapping the franchise tax would result in businesses passing costs on to consumers.
"Occasionally, I have to back away from policy considerations and say, 'How's this going to hit grandma when grandma goes to fill up her tank?'" Rep. Gordon Denlinger, R-Narvon, said. "And we're talking 25-28 cents per gallon. ... I'm here to make the case for the need, but the political realities are challenging."
Democrat Mike Sturla, who represents Lancaster city and its immediate suburbs in the state House, said that 18 months ago, a Corbett transportation commission official pegged road and bridge needs at $3.5 billion a year, with $2.5 billion being the minimum needed.
Instead, Corbett's budget calls for $1.8 billion a year, which Sturla called a status-quo proposal.
"I just don't think that cuts it," Sturla said.
Sturla credited PennDOT with achieving what it's been able to do given the state funding it gets and identified ways he said the agency could get more money.
He suggested municipalities who don't have their own police departments, pay for State Police coverage. The money now comes from the motor license fund.
"That's $570 million that doesn't go to road and bridge construction," Sturla said.
He also said the state is maintaining roads and bridges that would be considered local government's responsibility elsewhere.
"I often say, 'Look, we have some of the worst main roads of any state in the nation? We have the best back roads of any state in the nation,'" Sturla said.
"So I think we need to reprioritize what we're charging PennDOT to do, and we also need to give them the amount of funds that are necessary to do that," he said.
State Sen. Lloyd Smucker, R-West Lampeter, said while he's been hearing positive things about PennDOT, such as improved permitting, more funding is needed.
Senate legislation is being worked on that would implement Corbett's plan and raise additional money, he said.
"No matter which version of the bill passes, as Secretary Christie had said, "we're still playing catch up and there's still room for many other ideas and components …," Smucker said.
Denlinger said the state will have to shift from gasoline taxes to account for hybrid vehicles and those running on natural gas.
"At some point, you're going to have to get to a mileage-based form of taxation to support our highway and transit systems," he said.
nCorbett administration official cites progress, but local legislators say more is needed.