PennDOT secretary says Gov. Corbett to issue transportation funding plan “in a few weeks”

Pennsylvania Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch told the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission Board Thursday that Gov. Corbett should be unveiling his own transportation funding proposal “within the next couple of works.”

At the same time, it’s unclear whether any proposed legislation could make it through Harrisburg this session — especially given the Corbett administration’s focus on controversial issues like privatizing the state liquor store system.

Schoch chaired an effort that in August identified a combination of tax and fee increases that would raise $2.5 billion in additional revenue for transportation projects by the fifth year after implementation. The money would be used to partially close an estimated $3.5 billion funding gap.

Since the release of that report, Corbett has been mostly silent on the issue, leading some state legislators — including fellow Republicans — to express exasperation at the governor.

In the absence of a legislative push by Corbett, Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Jake Corman (R., Centre) unveiled his own funding legislation earlier this month — though Corbett said at the time that he was focusing his attention on passing a natural gas impact fee and getting school voucher legislation through the state Legislature.

Schoch told the DVRPC Board at its Thursday meeting that Corbett is “supportive of the general” thrust of the transportation commission’s report and “is highly interested” in increased funding, given the poor condition of Pennsylvania’s infrastructure. The state has the most structurally deficient bridges in the country.

At the same time, Schoch said that both he and the governor were concerned that higher taxes or fees could hurt the state’s economy.

Schoch said Corbett might opt to push to ramp up any new taxes or fees more slowly and rely on borrowing at today’s low interest rates to fund infrastructure investments while revenue slowly increases.

He also said Corbett was planning on making changes to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to save money that won’t require legislative approval.

Corbett plans to meet with legislative leaders soon to discuss viable political options going forward, Schoch added.

And in what might be a preview of the rhetoric Corbett — who pledged in his election campaign to veto any new taxes or fees — may use to push his plan, Schoch compared the use of highway and transit monthly cell phone payments.

Cell phone users, he said, pay fees to keep cellular towers up and running. And though motorists and transit riders don’t pay monthly, “transportation is very much like a utility,” he said.

Schoch said any legislative solution unveiled by Corbett would be focused on providing 10 years of increased infrastructure revenue — enough of a window to plan and implement major projects.

Beyond that, Schoch said Corbett was interested in looking at ways to charge motorists based on mileage traveled. Tightening federal fuel efficiency standards mean revenue from the gas tax — all revenues of which are dedicated to infrastructure projects — won’t be a stable long-term funding source.

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