Corbett wants $1.9 billion from gas tax to fund Pa. transit

Gov. Tom Corbett will seek $1.9 billion in new funding for roads, bridges, mass transit and other transportation modes when he unveils his plan next week, according to a Senate leader who was briefed on the proposal.

Nearly all of the new annual revenue would come from lifting a cap on the tax on gasoline wholesalers, state Senate Democratic leader Jay Costa Jr. of Forest Hills said Wednesday.

Mr. Corbett will not follow the recommendations of his Transportation Funding Advisory Commission to also raise vehicle registration and driver's license renewal fees, Mr. Costa said.

Instead, vehicle registrations would occur every two years instead of annually; and driver's license renewals would be required every six years rather than every four. The advisory commission estimated those changes would save more than $5 million in administrative costs.

Motorists wouldn't see any savings, aside from the need for fewer postage stamps; the fees will be adjusted to reflect the longer terms. For example, drivers would pay $72 every two years instead of $36 per year for registration and $44.25 every six years for license renewal instead of $29.50 every four years.

The tiny registration stickers that go on license plates would be discontinued, and online delivery of documents would be implemented.

The commission had recommended that vehicle fees be raised by amounts equal to the inflation that has occurred since they were last increased 16 years ago, and indexed to inflation in the future. Mr. Corbett has publicly expressed reluctance to follow that advice, which was contained in the commission's August 2011 report.

The commission also recommended increases in fines for motor vehicle violations, but Mr. Corbett will not propose that.

Mr. Costa said the governor's plan would devote an additional $1.2 billion to state-owned roads and bridges; $250 million more to mass transit; $200 million more for local roads and bridges; and $75 million to a multimodal fund that would include airports, railroads and trails.

It also would provide $85 million for the Pennsylvania Turnpike to build slip ramps to industrial sites and to advance the Southern Beltway, a proposed toll road that would connect Pittsburgh International Airport with the Mon-Fayette Expressway in Washington County and add a leg to the expressway from Jefferson Hills to Monroeville.

While Mr. Costa praised the Republican governor for leading a push for increased transportation funding, he said the plan was too small.

"I'm not happy with the amount the governor is proposing. I'm not happy with the amount for transit. If we're going to do this, we ought to do it right," he said.

While Republicans control both chambers of the General Assembly and the governor's office, most observers believe Democratic support will be essential to passage of a funding plan.

The principal element is lifting the cap on the state's Oil Company Franchise Tax, which is levied against the first sale of gasoline as it enters the state, typically between refiners and distributors.

At present, the 153.5-mill tax applies only to the first $1.25 per gallon of the wholesale price. Eliminating the cap would cause the tax to apply to the entire "average wholesale price" of gasoline as determined annually by the state Revenue Department -- $3.114 for this year.

The Pennsylvania Highway Information Association -- an advocacy group representing construction, trucking, business and automobile interests -- said elimination of the cap would add about 28.5 cents to the current 19.2-cents-per-gallon tax paid by wholesalers, generating $1.85 billion in new revenue for the state.

Some or all of that increase could trickle down to consumers at the pump. If the entire increase is passed along, a typical driver who goes 12,000 miles per year in a 24-mpg vehicle would pay $142.50 more.

Mr. Costa said it was possible that removal of the cap would come in phases over two or three years.

Another element of the governor's plan is to amend Act 44 to eventually discontinue the $450 million annual payments that the Pennsylvania Turnpike is required to make to PennDOT. Under the 2007 law, those payments would continue until 2057. Mr. Costa said the governor wants to end them in 10 years instead.

The requirement is largely responsible for five consecutive years of toll increases on the turnpike.

Mr. Corbett will propose that counties make a 20 percent matching contribution to their state transit funding, up from the current 15 percent, Mr. Costa said. Along with the $250 million in new state funding, that would give ailing transit agencies access to $300 million more per year, insufficient to fill the funding gaps at Port Authority and other transit agencies, he said.

The plan also will address possible privatization of transit, and that will be a sticking point, he said.

"To us, that's a nonstarter. That needs to be a conversation for another day," Mr. Costa said. "We're not going there."

state - Transportation - businessnews

Jon Schmitz: or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG's transportation blog, The Roundabout, at Twitter: @pgtraffic. First Published January 31, 2013 5:00 AM


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