Democrats hope to end traffic jam on transportation funding | Slag Heap

Democrats hope to end traffic jam on transportation funding

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Two state Democrats offered a transportation funding package today which they hope will "start the conversation" about the state's infrastructure needs.

Authored by state Reps. Mike Hanna (D-Clinton/Centre) and Dan Frankel (D-Squirrel Hill), the bills are similar to legislation introduced by Republican Sen. Jake Corman last fall. The bills also echo recommendations made in a report from Gov. Tom Corbett’s Transportation Funding Advisory Committee.

Though TFAC issued a series of recommendations to generate $2.7 billion for roads, bridges and mass transit in August, Corbett has done little -- at least publicly -- on the matter.

"Pennsylvania's deteriorating roads and bridges deserve a higher priority then the Governor is giving them," Hanna said today at a press conference in Harrisburg. "If Gov. Corbett is choosing not to lead on this issue, it's time for the legislature to take action."

The bills' provisions include: uncapping the Oil Company Franchise Tax over five years; increasing driver and license fees; and modernizing portions of the Pennsylvania Turnpike to fund roads and bridges.

Frankel's proposal would dedicate the entire $450 million annual payment from the PA Turnpike Commission to the state to mass transit; currently, the funds are split between roads and bridges, and transit. His bill would also increase the amount of state sales tax used from 4.4 percent to 6.4 percent to fund transit.

Frankel said Democrats hope to make transportation funding a priority for lawmakers in 2012.

"We've been trying to do that for years," Frankel said. "I think postponing it and kicking the can down the road for another year is irresponsible. We need to have some action this year."

The state has been struggling to adequately fund transportation infrastructure since the federal government rejected the tolling of Interstate 80, knocking out an estimated $472 million in revenue previously slated to fund roads, bridges and transit.

Corbett campaigned on a promise not to raise taxes, but Democrats said Republicans appear wiling to make exceptions.

"Given the governor's recent support for a levy on Marcellus Shale, as well as the supportive tax votes of Republican legislators on that issue," Hanna said, "it doesn't appear that [a] no-tax pledge should be holding anyone back from voting for appropriate funding mechanisms for our state's infrastructure needs."

Hanna, Frankel and Rep. Mike Sturla pledged to work with Republican colleagues to pass a funding package and discuss details of their plan.

"What we've seen to date has been a lot of legislation being pushed through the legislature that is very partisan and is passed with Republican votes only," Sturla said. "Here's an opportunity for Republicans ... We can talk about a lot of issues. The reality is until the Governor and Republicans decide they want to move on this, we're at a standstill for Pennsylvanians, not just Democrats."

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