Deputy secretary touts cut to gas tax

With Gov. Tom Corbett unveiling his 2013-14 state budget proposal earlier this week, a state Department of Transportation official spoke locally about the transportation proposal Thursday.

“Obviously, public safety is the key,” said Jim Ritzman, PennDOT deputy secretary, at the Williamsport Area Transportation Study technical committee meeting.

Investing in transportation, Ritzman said, helps not only the 1.5 million students on buses each school day but all drivers. It also helps the state as goods are transported.

“Safety – not only is it for the school buses but it’s for everyone,” he said.

Ritzman said the governor’s plan decreases a “flat tax” – the gas tax – by about 17 percent. PennDOT also would change an annual registration process to every two years and move driver license renewal from every four years to six.

Ritzman said all rates would remain the same, but customers would pay for the extra years upfront. But he added it does have a savings for PennDOT.

“What that does is save PennDOT mailing costs,” he explained.

By gradually increasing local matches in projects – from 3.33 percent to 20 percent for capital transit projects and from 15 percent to 20 percent in local operating – it creates more urgency from the local agencies because they have “more skin in the game.”

When it came to Ritzman’s explanation of a multi-modal fund, county Transportation Planner Mark Murawski asked if the fund would be separated for separate functions.

Ritzman explained that it can be used for the best projects. It wouldn’t be earmarked for any certain kinds of projects.

“It’s one funding that can be used in any of these modes,” he said. “It’s a better way of doing things.”

He added that it also would help with an annual application process, which was brought up by county Commissioner Jeff Wheeland.

Ritzman explained that, now, the amount of money available isn’t known until the budget allocates it. With the proposal, he said, it would choose the best projects and allocate funds as needed.

Ritzman also said the proposal would decrease the number of state-owned structurally deficient bridges and create smoother roads.

Murawski commented that it was a “credible plan” to get the discussion on improving transportation started. He said that the state can’t underfund transportation and expect good results.

Ritzman concluded by saying that there’s still work to do in the coming months.

“This is the starting point to the legislative process,” he said.