Gov. Rendell today proposed raising dozens of motor vehicle fees and imposing an oil profits tax to raise $1 billion to fund road and bridge repair and public transit.
Rendell implored the General Assembly to take action immediately before the legislative session concludes, citing public safety concerns and the thousands of new jobs the funding package would produce.
"The time to act is now," Rendell told reporters at a morning news conference. "Ten weeks before an election is no excuse from shirking our responsibility from doing what needs to be done."
With the full House and half the Senate up for re-election, there is widespread concern among lawmakers that it would mean political suicide to support any tax increases ahead of an election.
But Rendell and Transportation Secretary Allen Biehler said there is legitimate concern that structural failures could endanger public safety. "We've averted tragedy by happenstance," said Rendell.
Biehler detailed the extent of the crisis for lawmakers in a joint meeting of the legislature. The General Assembly does not return to work until mid-September.
Under the Rendell plan motor vehicle fees- among them driver's license and vehicle registration - would be increased, and an 8 percent tax would be imposed on gross profits of oil companies doing business in Pennsylvania.
Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Phila.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee pledged to deliver the votes to pass the legislation. "It's not going to be easy but we'll get this done," said Evans, who appeared with Rendell at the news conference.
Senate Republicans, who control the higher chamber, have balked at the idea of any fee increases and some Republicans contend that an oil profits tax is unconstitutional.
Rendell said most of the motor vehicle fees had not been raised in at least 15 years and were only being increased in line with inflation.
Among the proposed fee hikes, the four-year driver's license fee would go up from $28 to $32 and the cost of registration from $36 to $49. Rendell said the average Pennsylvania driver would pay about 33 cents a week.
The proposal is designed to fill the funding gap left by the failure to win federal approval to toll I-80.
Rendell proposed 70 percent of the total funding, or $700 million, go toward roads and bridges (with a percentage for local municipalities) and 30 percent, or $300 million, to public transit. The increase would help repair thousands of structurally deficient bridges and crumbling roads and shore up transit systems that are being forced to cut service, he said.
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