PITTSBURGH - Gov. Corbett signaled Friday that a new transportation-funding bill is not a top priority for his administration this year and questioned the effect of proposed new fees on the state's brittle economy.
In remarks after a speech to the national Waterways Symposium, Corbett said that he would "take a look" at any transportation bills proposed this year but that they would battle for attention with measures on school vouchers and Marcellus Shale regulations. He said transportation might have to take a backseat, especially because the legislature's current session is only half-finished.
"I'll make this observation: This General Assembly doesn't end until November 2012. I don't have a deadline in my mind for this year," he told reporters.
Corbett said he was aware of transit concerns affecting the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh regions - as well as other parts of the state - but wanted to fully study long-term funding of transit and other infrastructure needs.
"Everybody thinks you should be able to do it overnight. . . . If you're going to do it, you have to do it right," he said.
Repeated studies have shown the state's transportation infrastructure to be in worsening condition. Pennsylvania has 8,000 miles of poor roads along with 5,000 structurally deficient bridges, 650 weight-restricted spans, and 50 that have closed.
Corbett's Transportation Funding Advisory Commission delivered its report on paying for $2.7 billion in statewide road, bridge, and public transit needs on Aug. 1, with calls for higher registration and license fees and lifting a cap on the wholesale gasoline tax.
Bipartisan pressure has been rising to move on the recommendations, and the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Jake Corman (R., Centre), this week announced intentions to introduce the funding proposals without the governor's go-ahead. Labor and business groups have lined up in support of some kind of legislation.
"There is no obvious deadline, and this can happen later, but having said that, if we don't do it this year, I don't know when we can do it," Corman said in an interview after Corbett spoke. The senator acknowledged that fees are a tough sell, but said repeated studies have shown the economic drag from poor roads, congestion, and vehicle wear and tear.
"It's an issue we've all been studying. Now it's a matter of political will," he said. "The time is now. Delaying will only cost us more."
Corbett had said little about the recommendations from his transportation committee other than expressing his reservations about the increased fees. He repeated those concerns Friday, while referring to the report released Thursday by the state's Department of Labor and Industry that state unemployment nudged upward in September, from 8.2 percent to 8.3 percent.
"I'm pausing [in moving for new fees] because the economy is very difficult right now. We see unemployment continue to tick up, and I'm trying to make the determination of whether this is the right time to do something like that," Corbett said.