The Transit Bill: Mediocre and Maybe Better Than Nothing
November 22, 2013

Pennsylvania’s roads and bridges are an absolute disaster.  So is our government.  I think roughly 100% of the population, plus or minus 5%, agree with these statements.

We don’t have the final version of the newly passed transportation infrastructure bill in front of us because the State House and State Senate have to work out some details, but we do know a few things:

  • It’s going to raise taxes on gas by 28 cents per gallon within five years.
  • It’s going to invest nearly $2.5 billion in our roads over five years.
  • It raises fees related to driving, like the vehicle registration fee.
  • It raises the prevailing wage threshold for transit projects to $100,000 from $25,000.

The approximate breakdown is that $1.3 billion will go to state roads and bridges, half a billion for public transit, a quarter billion to local governments for road maintenance, and the rest is split between the turnpike and dirt road repair (really?).

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette estimated that it this increase would be about $3 per week for drivers.

Our local delegation to the House, with the exception of North Pocono’s new State Representative, Mike Carroll, voted against the bill.  Marty Flynn, via his Facebook (which everybody should pay attention to, because he’s wonderfully colorful), said that he voted against it because of the gas tax, which hurts families.  Ditto for Kevin Haggerty, who actually created a Facebook event to repeal the tax.  (Side note: I encourage everybody to follow Marty and Kevin on Facebook — they tend to be very candid, which I find refreshing.)

Keystone Politics points out that the increased prevailing wage threshold for transit projects isn’t really significant and won’t affect unions too badly because most major transportation projects are far, far more expensive than $100,000.  I’d rather see no increase, but this is something that unions can swallow (I think) because the bill is going to create an epic amount of jobs over its duration.  (For those that don’t know, prevailing wage just means that workers have to be paid a fair rate for projects that cost a certain amount.  It’s a good thing for the working class.)

Party had nothing to do with this vote.  Or, at least, it wasn’t the main concern.  Strange, huh?  Initially, the transit vote failed.  Republicans voted 49 to 61 against and Democrats were opposed 40 to 51.  PoliticsPA has who switched.  The final vote was 104-95 and was regional.  NEPA and rural PA was against it.  Urban areas were for it.  Roughly.

You’ve all been waiting anxiously for my expanded thoughts on the bill, which are not-so-subtly hinted at in the post title.

The bill is mediocre.  Why?  Because the state has a lot more ways  to generate and pay for this than they are willing to entertain.  There is no tax on Marcellus Shale (the impact fee is nothing for these companies).  The Delaware Loophole can be closed (currently, corporations basically pay no taxes to the Commonwealth).  Online gambling can be legalized and taxed.

So the gas tax wasn’t really the only way this revenue could’ve been raised.  In that spirit, I’m unhappy about it.

That said, $3 a week in exchange for not having my tires busted from potholes is reasonable.  On top of that, there is an argument for increases in gas taxes in exchange for infrastructure improvements.  Higher gas prices lead to carpooling, encourage the purchase of fuel-efficient vehicles, increase the use of public transit, and deter driving.  Maybe I’ll walk to Vitali‘s in West Side for my breakfast sausage!  God knows I need the exercise.

The one argument against high gas prices that I’m very susceptible to (aside from the fact that I prefer taxes on shale and the upper class before whacking the working class) is that demographics and economics have led to a system of work that requires people to commute (and not by public transit).  Very few jobs are positioned in such a way that people can walk.  If all of the companies on Montage Mountain relocated to Downtown Scranton, maybe people could walk or utilize public transit, but the way municipal law and code is structured encourages development of suburban and rural areas.  This leaves cities behind.  People compensate for this by commuting (and abandoning cities — see Scranton’s fiscal crisis).

We probably need more than $2.5 billion to handle the needs of our transportation infrastructure.  Keystone Politics argues why this bill is straight up terrible and offers an insightful point: some of the projects that will be funded are a waste.  We shouldn’t build new roads and highways and bridges until the old, dilapidated ones are fixed.

The legislature is divided both regionally and by party, so this is probably the best we can get for now.  Governor Corbett at least can sleep at night knowing that Shale isn’t taxed and the working class is.

Bottom line: this could be better, but it’s better than nothing.

Leave a Reply