Corbett signs $7.5 billion transportation bill

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One of the selling points used to get rural legislators to back the transportation bill was that Farmer Joe won’t have to go miles out of his way at extra cost to deliver his products because all the weight-restricted, deteriorating bridges and roads would be fixed.

But even if those repairs are made in the next five years, by then, Farmer Joe and nearly everyone else in the state will be paying an additional 28 cents per gallon in gasoline tax–or 39 cents per gallon on diesel.

The bill, which calls for providing $7.5 billion in funding for roads, bridges and mass transit through 2018, would increase annual funding for public transit authorities by $487 million annually, with 90 percent of that split between the Port Authority of Allegheny County and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority.

State Rep. Jake Wheatley, D- Hill District, said he voted for the bill because it benefits mass transit riders, increases safety and employment and also increases diversity.

“It provides for real mechanisms to ensure contracting opportunities for disadvantaged businesses and veteran-owned businesses,” he said. “I am also extremely excited about the possibility of getting some of our chronically unemployed a real opportunity to gain some skill development that can ultimately lead to gainful employment that will come with this $2.3 billion annual investment.”

After the legislative debacle of liquor sales privatization, Gov. Tom Corbett did not want to see another of his legislative priorities go down in flames, despite his campaign pledge to not raise taxes. He instantly thanked “each lawmaker whose ‘yes’ vote will keep Pennsylvania moving.”

Drivers will not see the entire brunt of the gas tax increase at once. The legislation removes the current 12 cents-per-gallon and shifts it to wholesalers by raising their tax rates and eliminating the current rate cap.

The result will be a near 10-cent increase in January, another in 2015 and a minimum 8 cent increase in 2017.

The legislation’s tax hikes also include:

•increasing vehicle registration fees from $54 to $77;

•increasing title fees from $22.50 to $50;

•allowing counties to levy an additional $5-per-vehicle annual registration fee;

•increasing fines for major moving violations by $100 and,

•increasing the fine for failing to stop at a traffic signal from $25 to $100.

As for PAT, Allegheny County executive Rich Fitzgerald said the bill puts the authority in a much better financial position.

“We can predict for the next 10 years that we’ll have stable funding,” he said. “This is huge for the economy.”

The bill was identical to one the house voted down twice a week earlier due to Democrats resisting its provision raising the threshold for required union labor on contracts from $25,000 to $100,000.

That provision–which hadn’t been adjusted since 1961–will now allow municipalities to grant more work to small and minority-owned businesses that do not use union labor, while the overall budget increase rewards highway and construction unions with more large state contracts.

State Rep. Ed Gainey, D-East Liberty, said despite his dislike to the prevailing wage change, he voted for the bill all three times.

“It wasn’t an easy vote for me because of the prevailing wage, but I’m glad we got it done,” he said. “At the end of the day, it was about the people in my district. If PAT didn’t receive funding, the service cuts, layoffs and fare increases would have been too much to bear. My district depends on mass transit–to get to work, to the hospital and to school. I couldn’t go to my seniors and tell them we have no transit.”

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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