Whether they pay more for gasoline, or pay more for extra gas and transportation costs of goods detoured around deficient bridges, Pennsylvania motorists will be on the hook for an antiquated transportation funding system, PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch said.
“It is an important issue,” Schoch told the luncheon audience Friday at the Holiday Inn-Downtown in Johnstown.
“It is one that is going to affect the next generation. I think that is what it is: A decision of a generation.”
Schoch’s remarks to the Greater Johnstown/
Cambria County Chamber of Commerce event centered on Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposal officials say will generate about $1.8 billion a year. The proposal calls for an increase in gas taxes at the wholesale level over five years and a boost in registration fees.
Introducing Schoch on Friday, state Sen. John Wozniak, D-Westmont, promoted a bipartisan bill that includes some of the same provisions, but that would reduce the timeline to three years.
The bill, authored by state Sen. John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, and supported by the Republican and Democratic chairmen of the House and Senate transportation committees, would add about $2.5 billion a year to PennDOT’s budget for all transportation.
A long-term solution is overdue, Wozniak said, pointing out that gas taxes and fees have not gone up since 1997. Since the gas tax is tied only to the amount of fuel used, the move to fuel-efficient vehicles has actually reduced most motorists’ burden.
“This is going to be a very challenging vote,” Wozniak said. “But it very well could be the most important vote we make in the first part of this decade.”
Schoch compared the investment in Pennsylvania’s crumbling highways and bridges to the massive commitment in the 1950s and 1960s that created the interstate highway network.
At the time, taxes made up 30 percent of the price of every gallon of gas, Schoch said.
Today, it’s about 15 percent.
“It is time for this generation to invest in its future,” Schoch said.
Schoch estimated that an average driver with a fuel-efficient vehicle would pay an extra $2 to $3 a week for fuel under the governor’s plan, if retailers pass along the full cost.
But taxes only account for about 11 percent of the formula businesses use to set prices, he added. Things such as market competition and location also affect the price at the pump, he said, pointing to the current price difference of about
30 cents a gallon between Harrisburg stations and Johns-town stations owned by the same company.
Better roads will not be the only reward, he stressed. Businesses are looking for long-term assurance that their trucks can deliver products efficiently and safely and that their employees can get to work.
Maryland and other states surrounding Pennsylvania have passed new transportation laws, he said.
“Unless we make a similar commitment to invest in infrastructure, we are going to lose out,” Schoch said.
Schoch commended Wozniak and the Legislature for addressing the issue with Rafferty’s proposal, saying the governor looks forward to receiving some form of a transportation bill in time for the 2014 budget deadline on
“Highways, bridges, airports, railroads and mass transit: They are not Republican and they are not Democratic,” Schoch said. “It takes political courage to stand up and say, ‘I am doing this because it is the right thing to do.’”
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