Bigger and better: The Senate has an improved plan for transportation

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The latest proposal for funding Pennsylvania's roads, bridges and transit is $700 million better than the plan put forward by Gov. Tom Corbett in February.

Also promising is the fact that the legislation, Senate Bill 1, already has won some bipartisan support. Its chief sponsor, John Rafferty, is a Montgomery County Republican who was among early critics of the governor's idea for generating more money to pay for repairing the state's crumbling infrastructure. Earlier this year, he joined other members of his own party, as well as Democrats, in saying that the $1.8 billion plan that Mr. Corbett included in his proposed 2013-14 budget wouldn't do enough to tackle the state's deteriorating roads, structurally deficient bridges and underfunded transit systems.

Mr. Rafferty's bill draws on the most lucrative feature of the governor's transportation budget -- removing the artificial cap on the gasoline tax paid by wholesalers, with one significant change. Whereas Mr. Corbett would have phased out the cap over five years, SB 1 would get rid of it over three.

The bill takes other recommendations from a blue-ribbon commission that Mr. Corbett assembled early in his administration to study the problem of transportation funding. Mr. Corbett agreed with making driver's licenses and vehicle registrations valid for longer time periods, which would front-load payments to the state. However, the governor would not endorse increases in rates, which SB 1 proposes.

Motorists may not like paying more, but the amounts proposed are fair. Vehicle registrations, now $36 a year, would cost $104 for two years. At $52 a year, the total is equivalent to inflationary increases since the current rate was set in 1997. Similarly, driver's licenses, which now cost $29.50 for four years, would be $50.50 for six.

SB 1 would cost a typical driver an estimated $160 more per year, or $3.08 per week.

Both the gas tax change, likely to be passed along to consumers, and the increased registration and licensing fees, are user taxes, a way to make sure that the people who benefit most from better roads and bridges -- drivers -- pay a greater share of the upkeep. Another benefit of greater investment in transportation is the jobs that it will create.

Pennsylvanians have known for a long time that transportation has not been funded sufficiently. Senate Bill 1 is the best vehicle yet for fixing the problem, and lawmakers should push it forward.

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