Passage better late than never

Now that new transportation-funding legislation has been passed by the Pennsylvania General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett, officials have begun announcing the first highway and bridge projects for which money generated by higher gasoline taxes and motorist fees will be used.

The Southern Alleghenies region will benefit directly and indirectly from some of that money.

But beyond providing a list of upcoming projects, the state Department of Transportation, with transportation Secretary Barry J. Schoch at the lead, has embarked on the necessary task of clarifying details of the newly enacted legislation.

As Schoch has emphasized, some of the expressed alarm and fears surrounding the transportation funding, which also will funnel badly needed money to mass transit systems, are not based on fact, or are rooted in misunderstanding.

Some examples he provided:

1. The legislation does not implement an immediate 28-cents-per-gallon gasoline price hike. Funding provisions under the legislation phase in over a five-year period. “Such an estimate is based on the wholesale price of fuel in 2018,” Schoch said in a news release. “It is not possible to predict the price per gallon five years from now.”

2. Whatever the gasoline tax increase might ultimately be, it would not be thrust onto the back of the current 12-cents-per-gallon liquid fuels tax. That tax will be eliminated as all gas tax revenues are generated at the wholesale level.

3. Once the new law is totally implemented five years from now, the increased cost to the average driver will be only about $2.50 a week – about $130 a year – much less than many drivers dole out for lottery tickets, cigarettes or alcoholic beverages over the course of 12 months. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania’s vehicle registration fees today are among the lowest in the nation, while 31 states have a higher fee for driver’s licenses.

In response to the Legislature’s passage of the transportation bill, Corbett said the action showed leadership on lawmakers’ part. However, Corbett’s use of the word was unwarranted. The General Assembly was negligent in failing to pass such legislation long before now.

The transportation legislation was unfinished business dating back to the Rendell administration. This was a longtime example of failure by Pennsylvania legislators – and their leaders.

Even after passage, it was clear that many lawmakers would have preferred a second- or third-rate transportation system over a couple of extra dollars a week coming from motorists’ pockets.

Likewise, the law’s changing of the prevailing wage limit to $100,000 from $25,000 won’t undermine unions. Decades ago, when the $25,000 limit was set, much more could be bought for that amount of money. The new figure is a more realistic one for today, when it costs some companies more than $25,000 just to ready their equipment for a project.

The product of the new transportation bill will be a $2.3 billion increase in transportation aid annually at the end of five years – better late than never.

However, a lot of valuable construction time was lost, and too much deterioration was allowed to get much worse, while the Legislature played politics amid its quicksand of partisanship.