GOP senator criticizes tax plan

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HARRISBURG -- As Gov. Ed Rendell prepares to talk to state senators today about the need to spend more money for transportation projects, one Republican senator has come out against some of the Democratic governor's fundraising ideas.

Sen. Kim Ward of Hempfield issued a statement Tuesday criticizing elements in Mr. Rendell's backup plan for transportation funding, such as higher fees for drivers' licenses and vehicle registration and a 3.25-cent-per-gallon increase in the state's 31-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax.

She said that the governor wants to pass "the burdensome costs of the mass transit systems in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia to those hard-working men and women in rural Pennsylvania who have no other means of transportation except for their automobile."

Rendell spokesman Gary Tuma said Mr. Rendell's first choice for generating funds to improve roads, bridges and mass transit is to impose a new tax on the profits of oil companies. That could raise up to $750 million a year, depending on how high the tax rate was, he added.

However, oil companies will strongly fight such a new tax, and opponents fear it would just increase the cost of gasoline to consumers. And legislators haven't voiced support for the oil profit tax in the past.

Mr. Rendell, who will address the Senate Transportation Committee today, said the Legislature must come up with some way to generate at least $472 million a year for transportation -- in order to replace the money that the state lost when the federal government refused to allow tolls on Interstate 80.

Ms. Ward also called for a change in the state's Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, so that highway and bridge projects could be funded by the bonds -- which can't happen now.

As part of the recently enacted 2010-11 state budget, borrowing of up to $600 million was authorized for new RACP projects. These included Mr. Rendell's call to spend $10 million for a new building to house the papers of deceased Johnstown Congressman John Murtha and another $10 million for a library for U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter in Philadelphia.

Ms. Ward said that "instead of reaching into taxpayers' pockets" for transportation funding, Mr. Rendell "should reach into his own and [change] the permitted uses of the RACP for public transportation infrastructure projects. RACP dollars would be better served as reinvestment in aging roads instead of a library named after Sen. Specter," who last year left the Republican party to join the Democrats in the U.S. Senate.


Bureau Chief Tom Barnes: tbarnes@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-4254.


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