By Natalka Karaman, Contributing Writer
Republicans for government spending?
When it comes to Pennsylvania’s deteriorating infrastructure, the answer is yes.
This week, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jake Corman (R-Centre) said that the transportation funding problem should be a top priority for lawmakers in the coming months. The recent devastating floods in northeast regions of the state have really accentuated this issue, although Corman claims he was driven before the disaster to improve failing infrastructure.
The Associated Pennsylvania Constructors have started a push for government funding, launching a statewide campaign with television and radio ads and online petitions, which can be viewed at Better Safer Roads. APC, whose membership is generally fairly cozy with Republicans, is reaching out to the public for support of the funding recommendations of the Transportation Funding Advisory Commission.
“What’s noteworthy is that the industry is stepping up in a big way to marshal public support for this funding plan,” said APC Executive Vice President Robert Latham.
In addition to improving safety and relieving congestion, the TFAC plan would provide a much-needed economic stimulus, both in the short term and over the long run, Latham said. He cited an economic study by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, which showed that tens of thousands of jobs would be created, 58 percent of them in industries other than highway construction.
Just how bad is the infrastructure in Pennsylvania? Many roads and bridges in Pa. are crumbling, cracking, and wearing away. In fact, there is an estimated $3.5 billion annual deficit in transportation funds. The 5,205 bridges that are rated “structurally deficient” mark the highest of any state in the entire country. There are 8,452 miles of highway listed in poor condition and mass transit systems face serious underfunding. The money that should have been invested into repairs and maintenance for these structures has been delayed for so long that in order to prevent dangerous potential consequences, bridges and roads will soon face closures.
Due to the seriousness of the disintegrating infrastructure, Gov. Tom Corbett issued an executive order in April to create the Transportation Funding Advisory Commission. The Commission was composed of 40 individuals tasked with the difficult project of finding options suitable for Pennsylvania’s residents that would help solve the transportation dilemma.
On August 1, the TFAC released a report recommending how to raise $2.5 billion in new funding within five years for transportation. These recommendations include ending the cap on the tax on wholesale fuel prices, increasing fines for certain traffic violations, and increasing fees for driver and vehicle registration. Overall, drivers would pay about $132 more each year for driver and vehicle fees.
Other proposals suggested modernization and efficiency changes to PennDOT operations. For example, although the cost to renew a driver’s license would increase by $40, the renewal time would be bumped up to 8 years. Other options include reducing the number of driver’s licensing centers from 71 to 60. Making the system more efficient would save taxpayers money in the long-run and help boost local economy.
Rob Wonderling, President and CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and a commission memeer, explained that “we have not made a significant investment in that infrastructure since the 1990s” and these types of projects help generate “high-paying jobs across Pennsylvania immediately”.
Overall, the commission has tried balancing the needs of Pennsylvanians with the increasing cost of maintenance for safe transportation. Gov. Corbett must make the final decision and present a transportation funding plan to the legislature this fall.
Lawmakers concerned with the further damage inflicted on roads and bridges after the recent floods have seemed eager to move on this. However, they have been waiting for indications from Corbett regarding which TFAC’s suggestions his administration would be willing to accept or sign into law. Without a first move from Corbett, Republicans may be hesitant to create legislation that would aid this growing problem.
A package of bills, written by two Democrats and three Republicans including Sen. Elisabeth Baker (R-Luzerne) and Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzurne), will be introduced later this week in an effort to get extra funds for those northeastern Pennsylvanians seriously affected by the floods, which caused hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage. These lawmakers also want $250 million in new borrowing to fix the roads and bridges damaged.