Transportation Bill House Hearings Continue

Crumbling bridgeThe House Transportation Committee met today to continue hearings on the $2.5 billion behemoth transportation bill passed by the Senate two weeks ago.

The committee heard testimony from representatives of PA’s mass transit authorities, messenger’s association, construction industry, trucking industry, agriculture industry, the car rental industry, bicycle advocates and many others.

Friday’s hearing focused on concerns over the possible increase in the cost of fuel due to the proposed 18 month phase out plan for the gas franchise tax and a $100 surcharge on all tickets.

The skew of the panels brought to testify was mostly in support of the passage of SB 1 with some lingering concerns.

“Our industry is willing to pay its fair share to ensure our roads and bridges are safe,” said Jim Runk, President of the PA Motor Truck Association who expressed his support for SB 1. Jim also stated though, that he and the industry he represents would prefer a 5 year phase out of the gas franchise tax that the transportation plan originally proposed by governor Corbett back in January included.

Mass transit was out in force as well, with SEPTA, LANTA, and the Port Authorities of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia present.

SEPTA General Manager Joseph Casey told lawmakers of the trouble his system endures annually.

“Septa’s funding is 1/3rd of its peer agencies. I think we need a dedicated funding source, I think it needs to grow, and it needs to be bondable.”

Not surprisingly, Jen Ebersole of the American Heart Association focused her support on the public health benefits of the passage of SB 1. She lauded the inclusion of provisions which set aside two million for cycling and pedestrian facilities, citing that for every one dollar spent on pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, it saves three dollars in the healthcare industry.

“There are growing studies that show that these types of walking and biking facilities can be a boon to overall public health.”

One of the few who went before the committee noticeably skeptical of the bill today was John Connic, of the PA Online Messengers Association, a business consortium of firms that register vehicles for the state across PA. He cited concerns about the effect an increase in registration fees even if the new law did only make them necessary on a biannual basis.

“We are prob at the max of what we can charge for this business. For an added service how much is pub willing to pay? Arbitrarily upping the fee does not make sense.”

He was joined in his weariness about the legislation by Greg Cavoli, general manager with Enterprise Holdings who came to represent the car rental industry, who takes issue with the addition of the inclusion of an additional two dollar car rental tax.

“We understand the importance of equality and sustainability in transportation but you will not hear us advocate for a increase in registration tax and rental tax. Combined it unfairly targets our industry.”

When asked by Rep.William Kortz (D-Allegheny), “Are you for SB 1?”

Cavoli responded, “The bill has merit as long as there is no increase in regard to the tax.”

For the most part lawmakers remained mum on in the hearing, not launching into the usual prolonged leading questions which make it clear where the legislator stands. The hearing was three hours of questions mostly technical in nature to the panel experts.

Hearings on SB 1 are set to continue throughout the week.

*An earlier version of this story incorrectly indicated that Monday’s was the first House hearing.

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