Democratic leaders in the state House say it's time to act on recommendations put forward last summer by Governor Tom Corbett's Transportation Funding Advisory Commission (TFAC).
Legislation introduced by Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny County) and Rep. Mike Hanna (D-Centre County) seeks to fill a $3.5 billion shortfall in transportation funding by implementing key TFAC recommendations, including removing the cap on the oil franchise tax. That step alone would generate $1.6 billion, Hanna said on Wednesday, without mandating higher prices at the pump. "There was absolute record profits for gas and oil companies last year," Hanna said. "We're looking to the gas and oil companies to recognize that they have to shoulder their portion of the burden as well."
The TFAC report released last July estimates that an additional $172 million could be raised by increasing fines, vehicle registrations, and other fees. Funding infrastructure projects through those recommendations would mean freeing up almost half of the revenue from tolls collected on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. "We would then be able to dedicate the entire $450 million annual Turnpike payment to mass transit," Frankel said.
Frankel's bill aims to restore funding to the Port Authority of Allegheny County, which has undergone steep cuts in recent years. "Let's be honest about this: mass transit has the stigma of only benefitting those in big cities," Frankel said. "But that is a falsehood." He said that bus service is critical for those living in rural areas who are elderly or have disabilities.
Because the bills are closely modeled on recommendations from the Governor's commission, and on similar legislation offered by Senate appropriations committee chairman Sen. Jake Corman (R-Centre County), Hanna said, there's no reason that a bipartisan agreement can't be reached. "There's no original thought here," Hanna said. "These are their recommendations."