Pennsylvania transportation experts ventured into politically treacherous territory Monday (Aug. 1), arguing that the state needed to raise $2.5 billion this year in taxes, fees and other revenue to start rebuilding its neglected road and transit network.
The recommendations of the Transportation Funding Advisory Commission now go to Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican who has vowed not to raise taxes for any purpose . That could leave the governor in a tricky spot politically. He appointed the panel, which was led by his transportation secretary, but the group's suggestions include lifting a cap on franchise taxes for oil companies and increasing vehicle registration fees to match the rate of inflation.
The commission also suggested diverting a small stream of sales tax money specifically to transportation; asking local governments to pay more for transit; and halting the practice of paying for state police operations with transportation money. At the governor's direction, it avoided calling for an increase in the state's gas tax.
The additional $2.5 billion recommended by the panel would go toward fixing dilapidated bridges, shoring up public transit agencies and compensating for the gradual decline in buying power from federal gas tax revenues. "This is about more than potholes," the panel wrote. "The issues at hand affect safety, our economy and the environment, all of which shape the quality of life and ease of commerce in Pennsylvania."
Even if every change recommended by the group became law, the state still would not be able to keep up with all the repairs and improvements the experts say are necessary. The panel concluded that the state needs an added $3.5 billion a year to meet all of its needs, a cost that will increase to $10.7 billion a year by 2030.
To help with efficiency, the panel recommended doubling the effective period for vehicle registrations and driver's licenses. Car owners would have to register their vehicles only once every two years, saving the state $5 million, and drivers would get new licenses every eight years, instead of every four. The latter change would save a comparatively meager $500,000 a year, but would represent a convenience for residents.
The commission claims all of the changes combined would cost a typical driver $36 in the first year, and eventually increase, by the fifth year of the plan, to $132. That amounts to an 18 percent annual increase over current costs in the first year.