Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Bumpy road on transportation funding

An IOM editorial in the Daily News:

Bumpy road on transportation funding

An IOM editorial in the Daily News:

WHAT IS IT about transportation legislation that it seems to hit so many roadblocks? Congress is staring down a March 31 deadline for a huge transportation-funding bill that will help address some of the nation's crumbling bridges and roads, and it promises to be a bumpy ride.

Meanwhile, our own Harrisburg lawmakers are following their own strange and circuitous route to addressing this critical public-safety issue.

A few weeks ago, Democrats introduced legislation to provide $2.5 billion annually (after a five-year phase-in) for the state's transit infrastructure, which is badly in need of repair. The bills were modeled almost entirely on a bill introduced last fall by Republican leader Sen. Jake Corman, who had actually built his proposal, currently stalled in committee, around the recommendations of a transportation advisory commission hand-picked by Gov. Corbett.

Unfortunately, Corbett tabled the recommendations of that committee.

No one argues that the state's roads and bridges are in rough shape. Leaders even share many ideas on how to come up with the money: All three proposals would raise motor-vehicle registration and license fees and uncap the oil-company franchise tax, raising the tax on fuel distributors by a few cents a gallon.

So why hasn't anything gotten done?

For the same reason there's no tax on natural gas extraction: Corbett doesn't want to raise taxes or fees. That's why he's blowing off his own commission.

But it's not like Corbett is protecting us from some backbreaking tax hike. This plan would simply give vehicle-registration fees an inflationary increase, from $36 per year to $49.

Nor is it realistic to think the governor will find money for infrastructure repairs by cutting fat elsewhere in the budget, which he keeps on cutting.

Last fall, the Associated Press quoted Corbett whining about pressure to address infrastructure, saying it's been a problem for 25 years. "Where has everyone been?" he asked. Corbett is right that this can was kicked to him - Ed Rendell called attention to the issue, but Harrisburg never resolved it. But that doesn't mean Corbett can just kick the can again! That's how we got into this mess: No one has taken responsibility.

Someone needs to. Pennsylvania leads the nation in metropolitan areas with a high percentage of structurally deficient bridges, according to the advocacy group Transportation for America. Philly is third among big cities; Pittsburgh is first.

The very serious risk here is that Pennsylvania won't address this public-safety issue until after a high-profile disaster.

If it comes to that, Corbett alone won't be to blame. But Mr. Governor, wouldn't you rather be the guy who prevented the disaster in the first place?

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Every year, city government spends slightly more than $4 billion. Where does all that money come from? More importantly, where does it go? Are we getting the most bang for our tax buck? “It's Our Money” is a joint project between Philadelphia Daily News and WHYY, funded by the William Penn Foundation, designed to answer these questions.

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