Fall forecast: Transportation funding awaits governor's cue
No one can move forward on transportation funding until the governor outlines his priorities, but the issue holds a lot of sway with businesses and wide appeal on both sides of the legislative aisle because transportation touches every segment of the economy.
"I think it's the No. 1 issue," said Rep. Richard A. Geist, R-Altoona, the chairman of the House Transportation Committee.
The midstate flooding due to Tropical Storm Lee highlighted the needs in transportation with road and bridge damages, he said.
Bob Latham, executive vice president of the Harrisburg-based Associated Pennsylvania Constructors, also sees the issue as top priority. Not only does the state need to get its house in order, but the construction industry he represents has nearly written off any serious transportation funding solution from the federal government, Latham said.
"Transportation — and you're seeing it today — has a much larger impact on more people's lives than almost anything else," he said.
Issue: Transportation funding
Legislation: The state House and Senate proposed about a dozen bills last year, including fee increases, yet transportation funding took a back seat to the governor's election.
What: Pennsylvania needs $3.5 billion annually to fully repair, maintain and replace its aging roads, bridges and transit infrastructure. Gov. Tom Corbett's Transportation Funding Advisory Commission proposed a package in August to provide at least $2.5 billion over five years through vehicle registration fee increases, uncapping the oil company franchise tax and removing state police funding from the transportation budget. The commission recommended opening the door for tolling and public-private partnerships, too.
Who wins/Who loses: Trucking companies and motorists will pay more to register vehicles and could pay a few cents more per gallon at the pump when oil companies pass on the added expenses of the franchise tax. Construction firms that build roads, bridges and railways would get the long-term funding they're seeking for sustained work and more hiring. Transit agencies would get a $45 million boost for facilities and vehicles.
Priority rating: High. Business groups and legislators rate transportation funding as a top priority for this legislative session because deficient infrastructure has the largest impact on the economy, in terms of businesses, consumers and the workforce. Corbett also considers the issue a priority and plans to address it in a couple weeks, according to the governor's office.