The Pennsylvania General Assembly recently passed a bipartisan transportation bill that will begin to address the challenges the commonwealth faces with its transportation infrastructure. I asked Pennsylvania House Representative Brian Sims how the bill will affect residents of the Keystone State and what improvements citizens can expect to see.
Q: How will the transportation bill be funded?
Sims: First, the legislation lifts the Oil Company Franchise Tax (OCFT) cap to an inflation-indexed level over the next three and a half years. This package is also funded through various modifications to Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation through cost-saving measures and revenue generating opportunities. It does not increase registration fees for passenger cars, motorcycles or light trucks.
Q: Some PA residents are grumbling about the gas tax; what would you say to a constituent unhappy about the increase?
Sims: No one likes paying more at the pump, and I can assure you, that includes me. What I can say on that is this was an unfortunate but necessary step to ensure our roads, bridges, and mass transit were fully functional and safe. We’ve been hearing for years now about the dilapidated state of our infrastructure, and it only worsened with time. Pennsylvania leads the nation in the number of “structurally deficient” bridges. This bill will help to change that. With that said, state taxes generally make up about 7 to 10 percent of the price at the pump. Fortunately, the other factors which include the price of crude oil, refining, and distribution have resulted in significantly lower gas prices from a year ago. My Democratic colleagues and I have been pushing for other revenue opportunities for the state to avoid raising taxes on the average Pennsylvanian, including imposing a severance tax on the Marcellus Shale industry and reforms to the Commonwealth’s tax code, but any attempt has been repeatedly halted by GOP leadership.
Q: What motorist fees will go up?
Sims: This legislation does not increase the registration fee for passenger cars, motorcycles or light trucks. With this package, drivers now have the option to pay a $500 fine in lieu of a 3-month suspension of registration for a lapse of insurance; however, this option can only be used once in a 12-month period.
Q: Which roads and bridges are targeted for critical improvements?
Sims: The more appropriate question may be which roads and bridges aren’t targeted for critical improvements. Roughly 43 percent of our 22,669 bridges have been considered structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. In addition, of the rough 122,000 public road miles in Pennsylvania, 57 percent are considered in poor or mediocre condition. Driving on these roads in need of repair costs Pennsylvania motorists $2.947 billion a year in vehicle repairs and operating costs, this is roughly $341 per motorist.
Q: Where else can PA residents expect to see improvements?
Sims: This legislation allows for increased funding for mass transit and multimodal transportation.
Q: What impact will this bill have on Philadelphia?
Sims: Mass transit is an integral part of Philadelphia. Nearly 75% of my district uses mass transit to get to work. Without these funds, SEPTA illustrated pretty clearly the magnitude of the ramifications that would result from failure to pass this bill. Without a comprehensive transportation funding bill, 9 of SEPTA’s 13 Regional Rail lines would have to be significantly curtailed or shuttered entirely.
Q: Is there anything else residents should know about the bill?
Sims: I ran on a platform of putting Pennsylvania before partisan politics. We desperately needed this bill in Pennsylvania. There are things in this bill I do not like, and there are areas in this legislation I know my Republican colleagues dislike as well, but in the end we understood that compromise was essential to address our outstanding transportation and infrastructure needs.
For more information on the bill, Pennsylvania residents should contact their state legislators.