Transportation fallout continues
HARRISBURG - Fallout continues from the stalled effort to generate billions of dollars of new state revenue for road and bridge projects and mass transit.
Lamenting the loss of a construction season, Gov. Tom Corbett sought to blame House Democratic lawmakers Tuesday for the lack of a transportation funding bill.
The House should have passed a transportation bill on a bipartisan vote like the Senate, said Corbett at an event in Hershey. House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-33, Allegheny County, was wrong to tell his caucus members not to vote for it, he said.
"I truly believe the people of Pennsylvania are the losers in the transportation bill not passing the House," said Corbett.
Dermody, D-33, Allegheny County, said the governor is wrong to claim he told his caucus not to vote for the bill. He said the GOP-drafted bill before the chamber clearly didn't provide enough money to adequately tackle transportation problems, especially for mass transit.
"If we are going to vote on this, it has to be a (bill) that solves the problem." said Dermody.
Corbett set transportation funding, liquor store privatization and public pension reform as three legislative priorities he wanted enacted along with the state budget for fiscal 2013-14. A $28.375 billion budget bill was enacted, but lawmakers were unable to close the deal on the three priorities.
The governor signed a batch of laws Tuesday to sell the former Serrenti Army Reserve Center in Scranton to Scranton School District, add 10 more counties to the human services block grant program, narrow the scope of the "Delaware loophole" that allows businesses to avoid paying the state Corporate Net Income tax and establish a new venture state tax credit to replenish funding for several technology development programs.
Concerning the unfinished transportation issue, a Senate-approved bill would generate up to $2.5 billion annually within five years by lifting the cap on a state wholesale tax on gasoline within three years and increase motorist fees and a surcharge for moving traffic violations. Of that amount, $510 million would go under the Senate bill to 36 mass transit agencies.
A bill approved by the House Transportation Committee would generate up to $2 billion for road and bridge work within five years by lifting the wholesale tax cap within five years. This bill would fund mass transit with a $1 increase in a tire tax, 3 percent vehicle lease fee hike and transfers of some fee revenue from the Motor License Fund.
House Democrats suggested levying a state severance tax on natural gas production to support mass transit.
Dermody said fee hikes alone won't sustain mass transit needs. GOP leaders were unable to make specific vote commitments despite having a large majority of 111 votes, he said.
The House faces a return to session soon in order to pass one remaining budget-related bill, but Dermody said that won't provide enough time for a transportation agreement.
Since the transportation funding bill was not passed, $408 million of the seed money for the Central Susquehanna Valley Thruway (CSVT) is not available, and, as of now, the project is at a standstill.
"We can't start without the funding, and since it was not passed, we are in limbo right now," Sandra Tosca, PennDOT District 3-0 executive, said Friday.
The remaining $150 million in funding will come from the Applachian Regional Commission, which has already pledged its support for the thruway.
The 13-mile road and bridge project, expected to take 10 years to construct, would help alleviate congestion on the Routes 11 and 15 "strip" between Selinsgrove and Shamokin Dam and Route 147 in the Northumberland area.
In an April press conference announcing the state commitment, PennDOT Secretary Barry J. Schoch said the project is important to the economy, safety and lifestyle of the area surrounding Routes 11 and 15.
"When you're sitting in traffic on a daily basis and congestion, that's not supporting your lifestyle," Schoch said in April. "When you're waiting and you don't know how long it's going to take to get home, that's not supporting your lifestyle."
State Rep. Lynda Schlegel Culver maintains that the purpose of the transportion bill is not just to have the CSVT in place, but to make Pennsylvania's roads and bridges safer.
"The thruway is something we've been working on since 1997, and it will not only alleviate congestion but bring economic development as 10,000 jobs will be created to construct it," she said.
Culver added, "This bill will also result in 150 bridges in Northumberland County being rehabilitated. The cost was analyzed to be $2.50 extra spending a week for consumers, but isn't that amount worth it for safety?"
PennDOT officials said that the plans are in place, and they will act aggressively if the funding comes through.
"As I understand it, the legislature will revisit the transportation budget in September when lawmakers come back into session," Tosca said. "We will study what we need to do and go from there."
"We will be meeting in August and figuring out how to proceed," Culver said. "It's my hope that we can get this passed. If something happens to the bridge or there is a flood, there is no access in that area. There is no way we can ignore this anymore," Culver said. "Based on the letters and emails that I've received from my consitutents, many people want to see these investiments go through."