Gov. Tom Corbett signaled that a new transportation funding bill is not a top priority for his administration this year and questioned the effect of proposed new fees on the state's brittle economy.
In remarks after a speech to the national Waterways Symposium Downtown, Mr. Corbett said he would "take a look" at any transportation bills proposed this year but that they would battle for attention with measures on school vouchers and Marcellus Shale regulations. He said transportation might have to take a back seat, especially because the Legislature's current session is only half finished.
"I'll make this observation: This General Assembly doesn't end until November 2012. I don't have a deadline in my mind of this year," he told reporters.
The governor's Transportation Funding Advisory Commission delivered its report on paying for $2.7 billion statewide road, bridge and public transit needs on Aug. 1, with calls for higher registration and license fees and lifting a cap on the wholesale gasoline tax.
Bipartisan pressure has been rising to move on the recommendations, and the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Jake Corman, R-Centre, this week announced intentions to introduce the funding proposals without the governor's go-ahead. Labor and business groups have lined up in support of some kind of legislation.
"There is no obvious deadline and this can happen later, but having said that, if we don't do it this year I don't know when we can do it," Mr. Corman said an interview after the governor's remarks. The senator acknowledged that fees are a tough sell in these economic times, but he said repeated studies have shown the economic drag from poor roads, congestion and vehicle wear and tear.
"It's an issue we've all been studying. Now it's a matter of political will," he said. "The time is now. Delaying will only cost us more."
The governor had said little about the recommendations from his transportation committee other than expressing his reservations about the increased fees. He repeated that Friday, while referring to the report Thursday by the state's Department of Labor and Industry that state unemployment ticked up in September from 8.2 to 8.3 percent.
"I'm pausing [in moving for new fees], because the economy is very difficult right now. We see unemployment continue to tick up, and I'm trying to make the determination of whether this is the right time to do something like that," Mr. Corbett said.
Repeated studies show the state's transportation infrastructure to be in worsening condition, too: It has 8,000 miles of poor roads, 5,000 structurally deficient bridges, 650 weight-restricted spans and another 50 that have closed. Leaders of the Port Authority also have warned of a "death spiral" of continuing service cuts, fare increases and layoffs if there is no state action.
Mr. Corbett said he was aware of the transit concerns affecting the greater Pittsburgh and Philadelphia regions -- as well as other parts of the state -- but wanted to fully study long-term funding of the transit systems and other infrastructure needs.
"Everybody thinks you should be able to do it overnight. ... If you're going to do it, you have to do it right," he said.