Transportation Bills Back From the Dead in Pennsylvania, Washington

It has already been a busy year for states approving major transportation revenue packages but as 2013’s days dwindle to a precious few, another state is poised to join their ranks. In Pennsylvania, a $2.4 billion funding package is headed to Gov. Tom Corbett’s desk after a series of Lazarus-like resurrections over the last year, including one more this past week. Meanwhile, across the country in Washington State, lawmakers hope to revive another transportation package prior to the start of the 2014 regular legislative session.

Pennsylvania’s Reversal of Fortune

One day after voting down the $2.4 billion funding package, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives reversed course and approved the measure Tuesday, which paved the way for quick Senate approval on Wednesday and a final House vote on Thursday. The measure was one of Corbett’s top priorities and he is expected to sign it early next week.

At a news conference following the bill’s passage, Corbett said the legislation represented a new era for a “resurgent and re-energized Pennsylvania,” according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

“We forged a compromise for a transportation solution for the people and the good of the commonwealth,” he said.

The bill eliminates the state’s existing gas tax but lifts a decades-old cap on the oil-franchise tax paid by oil companies, which is expected to be passed through to consumers. The net effect, some estimates say, will be a 28-cent increase in the per gallon price of gas once it is fully phased in after five years.

A variety of fees and fines are also being increased starting in 2015 to pay for the measure, WHTM reported, including:

  • Vanity license plates will go from $20 to $76. Special fund plates will go from $35 to $54.
  • Accident reports will go from $5 to $22
  • Title certificates will increase from $22.50 to $50.
  • ID cards will go from $5 to $19, plus the cost of the photo.
  • Fines for speeding will increase anywhere from $15 to $25.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, by the fifth year of the plan, the legislation will allow for the investment of an additional:

  • $1.3 billion annually for state roads and bridges;
  • $480 million to $495 million annually for public transportation;
  • $237 million annually for local roads and bridges;
  • $144 million annually for a multi-modal fund to help pay for airport, port, railroad and walking and cycling projects;
  • $30 million annually for dirt, gravel and low-volume roadways; and
  • $86 million annually for Pennsylvania Turnpike expansion projects.

The final legislation is the product of years of discussion, months of debate, proposals and counter-proposals, and previous false starts. In 2011, a Transportation Funding Advisory Commission said Pennsylvania faced $3.5 billion in unmet funding needs, a gap that was projected to more than double by 2020 unless the state could come up with a plan to address the situation. Failure to forge a compromise this summer between House Republicans, the Governor and Senate Democrats appeared to damage the chances for a bill this year. Ultimately the final package most resembles the original $2.5 billion Senate plan, which included the increased fees and fines and the wholesale fuel tax hike.

“Good Progress” Reported in Washington

Lawmakers in Washington State continued work this week on a proposed transportation package that has proven elusive so far this year.

At a public hearing Thursday in Olympia, Senators heard testimony from local officials from around the state who urged lawmakers to move quickly in order to avoid additional costs down the road, the Associated Press reported.

In the works is a $12.3 billion proposal that includes an 11.5 cent-per-gallon gas tax increase. But the actual bills have not been drafted for the latest package so the details could change. Earlier this year, House Democrats approved a plan to increase the gas tax by 10.5 cents but it was derailed by Senate Republicans who wanted to see policy reforms first and by controversy surrounding the design of the Columbia River Crossing project. Subsequent special sessions of the legislature, including one earlier this month, also failed to produce an agreement. 

But on Thursday, Republican Sen. Curtis King was expressing hope that House Democrats and Senate leadership will be able to reach agreement and consider legislation at another special session prior to the start of the 2014 regular legislative session, which begins January 13. Work remains to be done however.

House Transportation Committee Chair (and CSG Transportation Public Policy Committee Chair) Judy Clibborn said there continues to be some disagreement on transit and other issues but lawmakers are making “good progress.” Gov. Jay Inslee was scheduled to meet again with House and Senate negotiators today.

“The investment that we make in this infrastructure is going to pay off,” Clibborn said.

Like Pennsylvania, Washington has been at this for a while. The state had a transportation funding task force, upon which Clibborn served, that met in 2011 and issued findings in January 2012. The panel said the state should invest $21 billion over the course of a decade in order to preserve the existing transportation system or closer to $50 billion to fully address additional objectives.