Local lawmakers explain Tuesday’s transportation bill votes

State Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, was the only local legislator voting in favor of a transportation bill that passed the state House Tuesday night, 106-95. That followed a failed vote on Monday. The bill now goes to the state Senate.

“My bottom line is that this is an infrastructure bill for the future of Pennsylvania,” he said.

Through increased gasoline taxes and motorists’ fees, the bill would raise more than $2.3 billion over a five-year period mostly for roads, bridges and mass transit systems.

Although much goes toward mass transit, which isn’t greatly used in the area, the local railroad system and airport would receive needed support, Everett said.

Though he doesn’t necessarily like all of the taxes and fees in the bill, he supports it overall.

“I’m very fiscally conservative; this does involve tax and fee increases, but it’s worth what we get for it,” Everett said. ” … Like many people with raising taxes and fees, I’m a reluctant warrior. I’m willing to support it within reason.”

The bill uncaps the gasoline franchise tax and increases it about 28 cents a gallon over five years. He noted the bill reduces the gas tax at the pump by 12 cents.

State Rep. Matthew E. Baker, R-Wellsboro, who voted against the bill, said the diesel tax would be increased by 39.8 cents per gallon over a five-year period, as well.

Everett said opponents claim uncapping the franchise tax is no different than raising it directly at the pump as franchises may pass it on to the consumer.

“It’s up to (the franchises),” Everett said.

“No” is the easiest vote to justify, Everett said.

“I could say it’s too many taxes and … justify a no,” he said, but he said with leading the country in most structurally deficient bridges, the state transportation system isn’t even treading water anymore.

“I think it’s unfortunate some people can’t put political ideology aside, whether it’s a superficial conservative or to protect unions. Step up and make a tough vote because this is a tough vote,” Everett said.

If the Senate and House can’t agree on a transportation bill, the consequences of not passing it this session means more detours, including for emergency vehicles, and worsening conditions, he said.

He noted that while a prevailing wage provision in the bill divided votes, he called it “meaningless” as it raises the threshold from $25,000 to $100,000 – and most projects exceed the latter range.

“For people to be ideologically unwilling to discuss a minor change in prevailing wage that would have no impact at all on anybody in the real world is irresponsible and shortsighted,” he said.

State Rep. Rick Mirabito, D-Williamsport, also voted against the bill, quoting a colleague as saying there’s “no shared sacrifice” in the bill.

“We’re setting up a situation where we have no accountability on the use of tax money,” he said. ” … We shouldn’t put into place a system that would allow totally unconstrained gas prices with no accountability. As elected officials, we have an obligation.”

He said the natural gas industry should share the responsibility with a severance tax to help fund transportation fixes “so it’s not all on consumers, small business and working people.”

Regarding uncapping the franchise tax, “I truly doubt the companies will simply absorb increases in the tax,” Mirabito said.

Because the bill raises its funding from gas taxes, Mirabito said that puts an unfair burden on those in rural areas who use less mass transit than those in urban areas. Plus, he said the mass transit fares haven’t gone up in about 15 years.

“It’s about balance, fairness, equity,” he said.

Explaining his vote, Baker said, “The vast majority of the good citizens of my district in Tioga and Bradford counties strongly oppose what is arguably viewed as the largest gas and diesel tax increase in Pennsylvania history,” he said. ” … If enacted, it could make Pennsylvania ranked No. 1 in both gas and diesel taxes in the nation.”

He formulated that if the gas cap was lifted, there would be a total of 75.2 cents of taxes on each gallon of gas.

This bill “is viewed as both extreme and too costly to the average person in my district given the financial hardships it would create to taxpayers struggling to provide for their families,” Baker said.

State Rep. Michael K. Hanna Sr., D-Lock Haven, did not respond by press time, but also voted against the bill.