The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Editorials

April 3, 2014

More burden on motorists | Second round of fee increases has hit

JOHNSTOWN — It was not an April Fool’s joke. It was a premeditated prank on Pennsylvanians by Gov. Tom Corbett and the Legislature.

We’re talking, of course, about the second round of fee hikes foisted on Keystone State motorists.

On Monday, the cost of procuring a duplicate driver’s license, certificate of title and other records jumped. The increase was the result of the passage of Act 89, the transportation funding bill, that was signed into law late last year by Corbett.

And state motorists will take another hit to their wallets in three more months when more fee increases take effect. Some of those changes will include a transfer of registration rising to $9 from $6; personalized license plate, $76 from $20; ambulance, taxi and hearse registration, $77 from $54; and farm vehicle registration, $110 from $76.50.

However, drivers who flaunt the rules of the road also will be hit in the pocketbook. Fines for failure to obey traffic-control devices will increase to a flat $150 fine, from the current $27.50.

The fee increases come on the heels of the Jan. 1 spike in gasoline prices, the first effect of the bill.

And it doesn’t end there. Some fees will be subject to inflationary adjustments every two years after 2015.

We cannot fault the end result of the bill, which will provide about $2.3 billion a year by 2018 to fix Pennsylvania’s failing bridges and crumbling highway system and provide extra funding for mass transit.

This year, the windfall from the increased fees and higher gas prices is expected to raise about $350 million.

However, we still wonder if our legislators really put much thought into finding alternative funding measures. It seems that the easy way out is to always burden the taxpayers.

Supporters of Act 89, which included most of the major special interest groups in the state, said the measure justifies the many studies showing that the state’s spending on transportation infrastructure was pitifully inadequate. Detractors said the bill was nothing more than a tax hike.

Which raises another question: What is the difference between a fee increase and a tax hike?

According to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, a fee is a sum paid for a service; a tax is a sum levied to defray expenses. Semantics?

And is Act 89 fodder for Corbett’s opponents in this year’s race for governor? Corbett, in televised re-election advertising, claims to have kept his 2010 campaign promise of less taxes and more jobs.

Motorists are stuck with the transportation bill, regardless of whether they believe it is good or bad.

But the voters will decide in November whether the fee increases and gas-price spike will spell an end to Corbett’s occupancy in the governor’s mansion.

 

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