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Proposed budget reduces amount diverted from transportation

February 12, 2018

Governor Wolf’s proposed budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year would allocate $769 million to the State Police from the Motor License Fund.

That amount compares with $778 million in the current fiscal year and continues a gradual decrease that began following a study by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee last year.  The committee determined that under the Pennsylvania Constitution, the appropriate amount to be taken from the Motor License Fund should be about $533 million.

Under the constitution, money that flows into the Motor License Fund from fuel taxes and license and registration fees must be used for highway purposes, including highway safety.  The committee determined that the State Police allocate about 47 percent of their resources to highway safety.

“We’re happy to see the diverted amount reduced, although we would prefer that it occur more quickly,” said PHIA Managing Director Jason Wagner.  The committee found that reducing the diverted amount to the appropriate level would pay for paving more than 1,000 miles of roads and designing, replacing and maintaining nearly 140 bridges, he noted.

In a related matter, the proposed budget again calls for implementing a $25 per capita fee to municipalities that use the State Police as their main police force. Several legislators have introduced plans that would charge municipalities for state police coverage.  Residents of municipalities who utilize a local police force ultimately pay twice to subsidize a “free” police station for other municipalities.

 

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PHIA’s 2018 wish list

January 11, 2018

Happy New Year to one and all, and we hope you had a terrific holiday season. As we begin a new year, we thought we’d share our 2018 wish list. Here we go:

  • One of PHIA’s most important points of emphasis is public safety, not just for highway workers but for the traveling public. According to the Federal Highway Administration, 85 percent of the fatalities in highway work zones involve drivers and passengers, not highway workers. Because Maryland’s automated speed enforcement program has worked so well, reducing excessive speeding from 7 percent to less than one percent of drivers, we implore Pennsylvania’s policymakers to push for a consensus on the automated speed enforcement measure that has gone back and fourth in the General Assembly. Putting such a program into place before the beginning of the next construction season could save lives.
  • We join our fellow transportation advocates under the banner of the Keystone Transportation Funding Coalition in supporting a rollback of the money that has been diverted from the Motor License Fund to support State Police operations. The Legislative Budget & Finance Committee says the Commonwealth has been diverting nearly $300 million more than is justified under the State Constitution, depriving Pennsylvanians of the transportation improvements they were promised preceding the passage of Act 89 of 2013. Let’s keep the transportation revenue where it belongs.
  • Along those same lines, there are other dedicated funds, most notably the Public Transportation Trust Fund and the Multimodal Transportation Fund, that are essential for building and maintaining a fully integrated transportation system that includes all modes of transportation. Again, let’s keep the transportation revenue where it belongs.
  • Another important issue is to see that drivers of hybrids and alternative fuel vehicles pay their fair share for the wear and tear they cause on our transportation assets. We can no longer place the responsibility solely on the backs of those who consume gasoline and diesel fuel.
  • Finally, for the longer term, we need to begin looking at alternatives to consumption taxes altogether and create a fee structure based on mileage. Charging drivers based on the fuel they consume does not allocate the maintenance responsibility as fairly as it should, and will become even less fair as we continue to move away from fossil fuels and toward alternatives.

 

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GOP tax bills also involve infrastructure

November 28, 2017

The always insightful Governing Magazine had an article this week observing that the Republican-sponsored tax bills before Congress are also infrastructure bills because they contain provisions that would impact the ability of states and localities to pay for public works improvements.

In addition to changing the way that highways are financed, the proposed plans include revisions to financing ports and airports, along with state programs related to electric vehicles and wind energy.

At the same time, some infrastructure advocates are disappointed that these provisions are part of a tax bill rather than a standalone infrastructure measure. They believe having separate measures, but considered together, would give a greater boost to improving the country’s infrastructure.

“From a PHIA perspective, we care less about how it’s done,” said PHIA Managing Director Jason Wagner. “We believe very strongly that the federal government needs to step up, both in terms of setting policy and in providing some funding to the states.”

To read the entire Governing article, click here.

 

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Wolf rejects diverting more transportation funds

November 10, 2017

Transportation advocates appear to have received great news this week as a spokesman for Governor Wolf said the governor does not intend to tap into transportation money to close a $300 million budget gap.

In recognition of a legislative study concluding that the state had been diverting $222 million more than it should from the Motor License Fund to support State Police operations, the governor and General Assembly had trimmed last year’s $802 million diversion by about $23 million and apparently will continue to scale the diverted amount back.

However, House Republicans then suggested diverting some $400 million from the Multimodal Transportation and Public Transportation Trust funds to plug the budget gap, later reducing that to $100 million before stripping out specific sources and leaving it up to the governor’s discretion.

The governor’s spokesman, J.J. Abbott, said the following to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via email:

“Gov. Wolf will not raid any funds related to public transit as proposed by the House Republicans. Governor Wolf understands that public transit and other infrastructure are vital parts of Pennsylvania’s economy and he’s committed to continuing to invest more — not less — in these programs.”

 

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PA revenue package approved, but questions remain

October 26, 2017

Nearly four months beyond the beginning of the fiscal year, the General Assembly has approved revenue bills that – at least in theory – will balance the budget of nearly $32 billion that was approved earlier this year.

Assuming Governor Wolf approves the measures, the revenue will result from a significant expansion of gambling – casino-style gambling in truck stops, airports, online, and 10 new casino locations around the state, each with hundreds of slot machines and possibly table games – projected to raise $200 million per year.

Another $1.5 billion will be borrowed and repaid over 20 years, and $500 million is to come from “off-budget” funds at the governor’s discretion. Previously, House Republicans proposed siphoning $50 million each from multimodal transportation and public transportation funds, but the specific sources were stripped from the final version.

It is not clear what the governor will do or when he will act. Earlier measures are diverting almost $740 million from the Motor License Fund this fiscal year. PHIA will provide updates as decisions are made.