Pennsylvania Senate GOP leaders say Corbett transportation plan falls short

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HARRISBURG -- One week after Gov. Tom Corbett unveiled his transportation funding proposal, the Republican chairman of the state Senate transportation panel called for a plan that would raise as much as $1 billion more annually, a figure in line with recommendations the governor's advisory commission made in 2011.

Policymakers agree the state must spend more on its transportation network, and last week, 18 months after the final report of his Transportation Funding Advisory Commission, Mr. Corbett outlined a plan that would generate an additional $1.8 billion in its fifth year, in large part by lifting a cap that made only part of the wholesale price of gas subject to a tax paid by distributors.

The recommendation of the advisory commission would generate an additional $2.5 billion by the fifth year, though the report said the state had an immediate need for an additional $3.5 billion in annual funding. In addition to uncapping the wholesale gas tax, the commission recommended increasing fees for driver's licenses and vehicle registrations.

After a hearing Tuesday on the governor's transportation proposal, Sen. John Rafferty, R-Montgomery and chairman of the Transportation Committee, said he believes a legislative package should be designed to raise $2.7 billion to $2.9 billion in additional annual revenue. To get beyond the revenue generated by uncapping the oil franchise tax, he said senators are looking at adjustments to fees and fines. Mr. Corbett had declined to recommend raising fees.

"Once we get close to the $2.8, $2.9 [billion] in the Senate and the House, we're hoping by then [public-private partnership] money starts rolling in," Mr. Rafferty said. "That will bring us even over the $3 billion, which is really what we need in Pennsylvania."

Asked earlier Tuesday about the desire in the Senate to raise more transportation revenue through fee increases, Mr. Corbett said he had considered the effect of any changes on taxpayers.

"I made in our budget proposal what I consider to be a reasonable proposal in light of the economic times on the taxpayers of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and keeping them in mind first and foremost," he said.

Democrats have criticized the proposal as raising too little revenue, and at the hearing Tuesday, some Republican senators suggested the same.

"I'm having a tough time getting excited that this is enough," said Sen. Don White, R-Indiana, vice chairman of the committee.

The sentiment of transportation leaders in the House's Republican majority was less evident. The chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Rep. Dick Hess, R-Bedford, said after the hearing he has not decided how much he thinks should be raised.

"We're going to be analyzing that very closely over the next two to three weeks or a month" he said. "We'll come up with an opinion at that time. Right now I'd just be shooting from the hip if I gave you a number."

electionspa - state - Transportation

Karen Langley: klangley@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-2141.


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