Corbett makes promise, without specifics, on transit
December 9, 2012 10:00 AM
Gov. Tom Corbett
By Karen Langley and Laura Olson Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
NEW YORK -- After 16 months in which Gov. Tom Corbett offered little response to transportation-funding recommendations by his own advisory commission, he promised Saturday to back a comprehensive plan early next year.
That commitment included few details of how Mr. Corbett plans to find billions of dollars to repair the state's roads and bridges, but it elicited a palpable sigh of relief from business leaders and legislators who have called for a long-term funding strategy.
Industry representatives in attendance at a Pennsylvania Society event in New York City where the governor was speaking set an aggressive timeline of early spring for when they would like to see a comprehensive transportation plan signed into law.
"We didn't need the details. What we needed was him firing the starting gun, and that's what he did," said David Patti, of the Pennsylvania Business Council. "The big deal about transportation today was he put his own political skin in the game, really for the first time."
The governor spoke at the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association breakfast as part of the annual Pennsylvania Society dinner and related receptions that draw public officials and political insiders.
Mr. Corbett delivered a wide-ranging speech that reaffirmed his commitment to privatizing the state's liquor stores and resolving the pension-funding crisis, but the response focused on his infrastructure remarks.
Speaking to reporters afterward, Mr. Corbett said he has a transportation-funding plan "ready to go" but declined to disclose specifics as he talks with the state House and Senate.
The governor did point to a state law passed last year allowing for public-private partnerships to pay for infrastructure projects and to the recent federal highway bill as having given Pennsylvania several helpful funding tools.
"What we've been doing for the last two years is modernizing PennDOT as we said we would [and] gaining the efficiencies in PennDOT," he said. "Those were two legs of a three-legged stool, if you will. Now we go to the funding side and to the future."
His transportation secretary, Barry Schoch, said the revenue-raising options being proposed follow the "basic tenets" of the report issued last year by the Transportation Funding Advisory Commission.
That report called for raising $2.7 billion annually through lifting a cap on a tax charged to fuel distributors and by raising license and registration fees.
Mr. Corbett declined Saturday to say whether his plan will include hiking fees on drivers, but he has previously suggested that he may be amenable to lifting the cap on the oil franchise tax.
Sen. John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, last session's transportation committee chairman, said legislation he plans to introduce in late January or early February is "a very encompassing bill" that would raise between $1.6 billion and $2.2 billion during the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
While he's discussed his approach with the Corbett administration and Senate Democrats, Mr. Rafferty said he had not yet talked with House Republicans, who are in the process of replacing their transportation committee chairman, former state Rep. Rick Geist, R-Blair.
House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, said he is looking forward to seeing the administration's "concrete proposals" for transportation funding soon.
In Allegheny County, business and transportation leaders applauded the governor's remarks, describing them as a significant step toward beginning repairs to an aging infrastructure.
"We appreciate the governor's commitment to a comprehensive, multi-modal statewide transportation funding solution and we look forward to working with him, state legislators and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald to achieve a reliable, sustainable funding source that grows with inflation," Port Authority Chief Executive Officer Steve Bland said in a statement.
Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, said Mr. Corbett's comments were a sign of his "clear commitment" to a funding plan.
"He recognizes the vital importance of our transportation infrastructure and transit systems in moving goods to market and people to work, school, and other daily activities," Mr. Yablonsky said.
Mr. Corbett said he is aiming to get a funding plan approved before the state budget deadline at the end of June, while business leaders urged passing the necessary bills by April 1.
Robert Latham, executive vice president of Associated Pennsylvania Constructors, said swift approval would ensure that the state does not miss another construction cycle.
"We have to work under project schedules," Mr. Latham said. "Why shouldn't they?"