Monday, February 8, 2016

Sick Transit Gloria

As the issue of fixing Pennsylvania's roads and bridges idles in the capital, a Democratic leader offers a symbolic gesture to sing the tale of our sick transit woes.

Sick Transit Gloria


(A brief discussion twixt Baer & Baer's editor, a.k.a. BE)

JB: And in the category of "whatever it takes," we now have a top Democratic leader in Harrisburg offering an attention-getting bill on the transportation-funding mess.

BE: You mean the mess surrounding more dangerously crumbling bridges than any state in the nation, highways as pocked as the surface of the moon and transit systems starving to death?

JB: That's the mess.

BE: And what? Democrats want to raise the gas tax, raise vehicle registration fees, raise drivers' license fees to pay for long-overdue repairs to better protect our motoring public?

JB: Actually, what House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody proposes is a bill to rename PennDOT. Here's part of his co-sponsoring memo.

"I plan to introduce legislation that would rename the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation as the Department of Deferred Maintenance. As with past instances when state agencies were renamed, the bill would require the department to use up any remaining `PennDOT' materials before printing stationery, signs and publications with the department’s new name. I acknowledge that this bill might be seen as a symbolic gesture. Some might even call it frivolous. What I consider frivolous – even dangerous – is the current course of prolonged inaction on an urgent issue that threatens the lives and economic livelihoods of Pennsylvanians. The situation needs the governor’s immediate attention."

BE: Interesting. Drawing attention to an issue by borrowing a page from Monty Python's "Department of Silly Walks."

JB: Well, sorta. And if it keeps up, everybody will be walking everywhere.

BE: So, seriously, what now?

JB: The online news service reports that Gov. Corbett and GOP leaders are pressing for some kind of funding for highway and bridge repair. The service quotes Senate President Joe Scarnati:

“The governor’s got a real interest in doing a transportation bill. He conveyed to me he would like to roll something out. He wants to work with us on timing. Whatever he has, we can scale it to make it more palatable to us in the Legislature. I don’t know his timing, but sometime in March, I think. I don’t know what the druthers of my colleagues are, whether we want to do this before or after the budget. But if we get a plan, we need to do it before we leave for the fall.”

BE: So, in an election year, lawmakers will raise fees or taxes despite the no-tax pledge?

JB: It's a problem. Need billions. Got no money.

BE: Well, they taxed shale and called it a fee, why not tax gas and call it a fee?

JB: Or simply sing out sick transit hymns and rename PennDOT.

BE: Yeah, that's probably a better path.

JB: Just watch out for the potholes on it. Grrrr.



Daily News Political Columnist
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About this blog
John Baer has been covering politics and government for the Daily News since 1987. The National Journal in 2002 called Baer one of the country's top 10 political journalists outside Washington, saying Baer has, "the ability to take the skin off a politician without making it hurt too much." E-mail John at

John is the author of the book "On The Front Lines of Pennsylvania Politics: Twenty-Five Years of Keystone Reporting" (The History Press, 2012). Reach John at

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
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