Featured, News

Southeast Partnership offers menu of funding solutions for impending ‘cliff’

April 9, 2019

The Southeast Partnership for Mobility, which consists of SEPTA, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and PennDOT, joined a growing number of entities this week in sounding an alarm over a rapidly approaching transportation funding “fiscal cliff.”

The partnership produced a report that focused on transportation needs in the southeast region. The group identified a variety of funding mechanisms that policymakers might consider to replace a $450 million annual subsidy that public transportation agencies receive from the Turnpike. That subsidy drops to $50 million in 2022, but it has already been halted by a lawsuit filed by independent truckers and a motorist association.

The subsidy arrangement, which began in 2007 after plans to toll I-80 failed, has caused the Turnpike’s debt to approach $12 billion. Turnpike tolls have increased annually for 11 years and will continue to increase for the next 30 years.

“SEPTA and other public transportation agencies are facing cuts in projects and services that could begin to affect the public as soon as this summer,” said PHIA Managing Director Jason Wagner. “While it’s good to get the conversation started, there’s not a lot of time to talk before the public will start feeling the pain.”

To view the menu of funding ideas, go to www.PaMobilityPartnerships.com.

 

 

News

Consider the problem identified

March 28, 2019

The chairpersons of the state House and Senate Transportation Committees, accompanied by members of the American Council of Engineering Companies of PA, became the latest entities to weigh in on the Commonwealth’s impending transportation funding crises last week.

In a Capitol Rotunda news conference, Republican Sen. Kim Ward, who chairs the Senate committee, said it is imperative that the state have a plan ready when the annual $450 million transfer from the Turnpike to PennDOT falls to only $50 million in three years. She said she has convened a legislative working group to evaluate options.

Of more immediate concern is that a lawsuit by independent truckers is already holding up those payments. If the truckers prevail, the payments will stop immediately.

Then, of course, there is the issue of diverting revenue from the constitutionally protected Motor License Fund. The fuel tax and license and registration fees that go into that fund are supposed to be restricted for highway use, but in recent years have funded nearly three-quarters of State Police operations.

Meanwhile, municipalities continue to abandon their local police forces and are relying on State Police instead. The municipalities save money, but such shifting puts a greater burden on the State Police budget.

News conference participants noted that failing to address these issues will have a negative effect on bridge and highway maintenance and construction, public transportation services and all other modes of transportation as well.

“The first steps in addressing problems are to identify them and sound the alarms,” said PHIA Managing Director Wagner. “It appears those steps are complete. Now it’s time to find solutions and implement them.”

 

Featured, News

TAC report paints glum picture of transportation funding

March 7, 2019

Most readers of this publication and George Wolff’s Keystone Transportation Funding Coalition newsletter are aware of the transportation funding issues facing the Commonwealth.

Those issues include the lack of progress in achieving a federal highway funding solution, a lawsuit challenging the appropriateness of the Turnpike Commission’s subsidies to public transportation, the diversion of revenue from the Motor License Fund, and the declining revenue generated from fuel taxes and license and registration fees.

A recent report from the state’s Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) on transportation funding risks corroborates the challenges facing political leaders and policymakers, beginning as early as Pennsylvania’s new fiscal year on July 1.

The Turnpike has been unable to make the last three quarterly installments on the $450 million annual payment required by Act 44 of 2007. The matter is pending in federal court, and the uncertainty prevents the turnpike from securing the required bonds.

While $400 million of that annual payment will expire at the end of 2022, the lawsuit accelerates the date of reckoning. Couple that with the threat of repealing a measure that would allocate proceeds of vehicle sales taxes to public transportation, along with the other issues identified above, and the state could be facing a worst-case scenario that would remove $18.5 billion in transportation funding from the fiscal years of 2021-22 through 2029-30, according to the TAC study.

“Needless to say, the report paints a dire picture,” said PHIA Managing Director Jason Wagner. “And even though we may avoid the worst-case scenario, these issues will not ease without some tough decision-making on the part of our state and federal policymakers.”

To view a PowerPoint presentation on the TAC report’s findings, click here.

 

News

Paying for police coverage is again an issue

February 14, 2019

In his annual budget address this week, Gov. Tom Wolf has once again proposed that the Commonwealth charge a fee to Pennsylvanians who rely on State Police coverage in their communities rather than a local or regional police force.

The argument supporting such a fee is that this “free” State Police coverage is subsidized by the roughly three-quarters of Pennsylvanians who also pay for their own local police coverage. Those who opt to disband their local police forces or never had one in the first place generally pay significantly lower local property taxes.

Whether this proposal stands a better chance of adoption this year after failing to gain traction in previous budgets remains to be seen, but few policymakers articulate the reasoning better than state Rep. Mike Sturla of Lancaster, who chairs the House Democratic Policy Committee. To read a Q&A interview featuring Sturla and PennLive reporter Wallace McKelvey, click here.

 

News

PHIA News Digest – Vol. 4, No. 5

January 28, 2019

Road salt use creates environmental worries

Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation still relies on a steady diet of salt to de-ice state roads and highways. But in some other states, including neighboring New Jersey, products like beet juice and cheese brine are being used to keep drivers safe and roads away from salt.

PennDOT Connects program aims to improve transportation planning

PennDOT Secretary Leslie S. Richards announced that project-planning collaboration and outreach with more than 750 municipalities is complete on more than 1,850 projects through the department’s PennDOT Connects transportation planning process.

King of Prussia rail project reaches two milestones

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority Board has approved a contract to advance further engineering of the KOP Rail extension of the Norristown High Speed Line.

State troopers issue nearly 1,000 citations for driving during snow storm

Pennsylvania State Police issued nearly 1,000 citations to commercial drivers who were stopped on Pennsylvania highways during this weekend’s storms.

OPINION | The bus system of the future

Indianapolis is rethinking its approach, seeking new efficiencies that will better serve those from disadvantaged communities.