Republican state senator takes aim at mass transit

Yesterday, Gov. Ed Rendell appeared in front of the State Senate Transportation Committee to make the case for his plan to raise money needed to fund roads, bridges, highways, and mass transit. The governor wants to increase the gas tax as well as registration and license fees to generate $472 million in revenue. Rendell says these steps are necessary because the federal government rejected the state's plans to put tolls on I-80.

Unsurprisingly, not everyone in the legislature agrees. During yesterday's hearing, a conservative Republican told Rendell that his plan was unfair to the state's motorists.

State Sen. Kim Ward, R - 39th District, represents most of Westmoreland County and she says it's unfair to raise taxes on everybody to fund public transit used by a few.

"So they're putting gas in their car, paying extra taxes, so we don't have to charge so much to folks riding buses -- it's just not fair, not fair," said Ward.

This drives us crazy, for several reasons. First, Rendell's plan isn't to simply tax motorists to pay for public transit. Instead, it's part of a comprehensive package designed to boost funding for all kinds of transportation projects. The majority of money raised by the taxes would go to fix roads and bridges used by cars, not to subsidize public transportation.

Second, the implication that public transit is flush with cash isn't exactly true. In fact, SEPTA and other transit agencies didn't even have dedicated funding until a couple of years ago. And the funding they have has been cut significantly since the budget crisis began. So people who ride public transit aren't getting some kind of plum deal from state government.

Third, we think Ward's statement is incredibly short sighted. Pennsylvania shouldn't be divided into people who drive and people who take buses. The state's economy needs a good transportation system, which includes cars, buses, trains, and bridges. Big cities -- like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh -- need mass transit to provide access to employment, reduce congestion, and generally help move people around efficiently. The rest of Pennsylvania needs both of those urban centers to be prosperous, since they serve as the economic engines of the entire state.

We're not necessarily endorsing the tax proposed by Rendell. There may be valid arguments against raising the fees and the gas tax. However, the claim that Ward seems to be making-- that this is unfair because drivers will be forced to fund public transit-- just doesn't hold up to scrutiny.

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