Lawmakers disagree on sum for roads

LEWISBURG – Pennsylvanians won’t die if the pension problem isn’t addressed, or if the liquor stores aren’t privatized – but if these roads, bridges and highways aren’t fixed, that may be a different story, said state Sen. E. Eugene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, at a Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting at Country Cupboard Friday.

That’s why he and the state Senate prioritize the transportation issue above the other pressing ones, he said. The state has about 4,000 structurally deficient bridges, he said, and about 10,000 miles of substandard highways.

Yaw focused on the state Senate’s transportation bill, Senate Bill 1, which was passed in June and proposes to spend $2.5 billion over five years, mostly dedicated to roads, bridges and mass transit. He noted it passed the Senate 45-5 with bipartisan support.

Yaw’s district, Lycoming, Bradford, Susquehanna, Sullivan and Union counties, would receive $100 million for roadwork, he said.

The biggest project the bill would fund is a $550 million, eight- to 10-year Central Susquehanna Valley Throughway project, adding 13 miles from Selinsgrove to Route 147 in Northumberland. Yaw said it’s the only project in the bill that would add miles.

Yaw said some businesses have expressed concerns about taking traffic away and affecting their business, but he said the benefits outweigh the negatives, as he called it a “jobs project.”

Gov. Tom Corbett’s transportation plan looks to spend $1.8 billion. The state House has yet to vote on a transportation plan, and state Rep. Fred Keller, R-Mifflinburg, said at the meeting the Senate bill already is dead in the water.

“It can’t be $2.5 billion, that is not going to happen,” Keller said. “There’s bipartisan opposition in the House, and there’s not enough votes.”

When an audience member asked Yaw if he’s tried talking to the House, he said he has, and he thought they had enough supporting votes.

Yaw pointed to the tax issue, and said if there isn’t enough funding for transportation, “Where do you get ‘enough’ from? Taxes,” he said.

Yaw is willing to compromise and go lower than the $2.5 billion, but wouldn’t give a specific number.

Joe McGranaghan, mayor of Shamokin Dam, said it seems Corbett has read the phrase, “Too proud to help” too many times.

“Is the governor ever going to come out of his office and fight” for what he believes should happen, McGranaghan asked Keller and Yaw.

While Keller said McGranaghan should ask Corbett, Keller added, “Maybe if we all come out of our offices, we’ll all see our shadows and we’ll have a transportation plan.”

The Senate’s bill would uncap the oil company franchise tax, which has been capped at $1.25 a gallon since 1983, Yaw said.

“It’s time to change,” he said, noting since it hasn’t kept up with the rate of inflation and with more fuel-efficient vehicles, residents are paying less over time.

If the tax was uncapped, it would be up to wholesalers to set the price; Yaw projected the price of gas would rise about 20 cents per gallon over a 3-year period.

The bill would increase the annual $36 passenger vehicle registration fee to $52.

“That’s $1 a day to drive a car,” Yaw said, saying that’s affordable.

It currently costs $29.50 for a four-year license renewal; the bill would change that to $50.50, but for every six years.

The bill would also institute a $300 fine option for drivers who want to pay that to keep points off their licenses, Yaw said.

Maryland, Virginia and Ohio have passed major transportation plans . “We need to keep up,” Yaw said, especially since the state leads the nation in the number of structurally deficient bridges.

Poor road and bridge conditions cost Pennsylvania drivers a total of $9.4 billion annually – approximately $1,800 per person, according to a TRIP study.

He noted one issue is the state has many paved, backwoods roads, more than many other states. That convenience brings problems when it’s time to fix those roads, he said.