News

Good news this week for public transit agencies and PennDOT

May 23, 2019

Our friends at public transportation agencies across the state received good news this week as the PA Turnpike Commission authorized borrowing $800 million, enough to provide a mandated subsidy for public transportation for two years.

The money will cover the payments withheld for the last year due to a lawsuit by independent truckers that made the bond market skittish, plus the next year.  The payments will drop drastically after 2022, however, and policymakers do not have a plan for replacing that money.

Another bit of good news surfaced this week as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security informed state officials that Pennsylvania’s Real ID program is now in compliance with antiterrorism standards. PennDOT’s certification came a year ahead of schedule.

 

News

Using highway money for its intended purpose

May 2, 2019

The Pennsylvania auditor general created quite a stir recently when he unveiled an audit that said the Commonwealth had diverted more than $4.2 billion from the Motor License Fund (MLF) in the last six years to support State Police operations.

The MLF, as many PHIA followers know, was created to receive the revenue generated by fuel taxes and license and registration fees (and some fines) and, per the PA Constitution, be allocated strictly for highway purposes.

Many PHIA followers also have been aware that PA has been diverting revenue from the MLF for much longer than six years. While the annual diversions have been growing to support some three-quarters of the State Police budget, the total diverted amount now totals $9 billion since 2001.

Recently, as gasoline prices have again approached $3 per gallon, news reports have noted that Pennsylvania has the highest state gasoline taxes in the country, at about 58 cents per gallon.  Each penny of the gas tax produces about $65 million annually, so when the diverted amount exceeded $800 million in the last fiscal year, that meant that about 12 cents – more than 20 percent – of the tax was funding State Police operations instead of building and maintaining bridges and highways. Read more

News

Small businesses feel a bigger pinch from deteriorating infrastructure

April 18, 2019

Transportation funding advocates often support their case with the assertion that a sub-par transportation system is bad for business and the economy. But which sectors of the economy suffer the most?

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, small business owners are more likely to feel the pain of higher maintenance costs, safety risks and the anxiety of trying to move people, products and materials through increasingly congested regions of the country.

Conversely, small businesses can be the greatest beneficiaries of infrastructure investment, according to Ed Mortimer, the U.S. Chamber’s vice president of transportation infrastructure policy.

Among the U.S. Chamber’s three million members, 96 percent have fewer than 100 employees, and 75 percent have fewer than 10.

“This shows why the highway construction industry and transportation advocacy organizations such as the Keystone Transportation Funding Coalition receive such a positive reception when we reach out to local Chambers across the Commonwealth,” said PHIA Managing Director Jason Wagner.

“Virtually every Chamber we’ve visited over the last several years has strongly supported a reasonable level of transportation funding because they know how important that is to local businesses, most of which are small.”

The U.S. Chamber’s position on transportation can be found here.

 

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.”