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Registration fees, fuel tax eyed for increases as state struggles to fund its highways, bridges

Pennsylvania has the second highest gasoline tax in the U.S. after California and with more electric cars in the nation’s future, it means fewer funds will be available to pay for necessary highway and bridge maintenance, a Lycoming County transportation expert said.

“Our costs go up as the funding source we use to pay three quarters of those costs slowly evaporates,” said Scott R. Williams, transportation supervisor at the county planning department.

Fuel taxes at the pumps accounts for 74 percent of the state funding stream for highway and bridge maintenance, he said.

Vehicle registration fees amount to 17 percent and 9 percent is from the general fund, according to the Williams and a check on the PennDOT website.

Meanwhile, vehicles are getting higher fuel efficiency, Williams said.

Recently, General Motors, announced that within 15 years they will no longer produce gasoline or diesel powered vehicles, he said.

“Revenue from fuel taxes will inevitably decrease,” he said.

Adding to the problem are rising traffic and freight travel in the state.

The funding streams are not keeping pace due to shrinking gas tax and federal revenues.

“No single approach has been identified by PennDOT, which may increase registration, title, and licensing fees and vehicle transfer taxes,” he said.

As for registration in the state, the base registration fee for a vehicle in Pennsylvania is $35 a year.

Counties also have an option to have PennDOT collect an additional $5 fee with the revenue coming back to the county for transportation projects, Williams said.

“Our investment needs are outgrowing our current funding, and this gap gets worse every year,” the department site said.

Fees may increase but they will pale in comparison to what other states’ residents are paying.

In Montana, for example, the annual registration costs are $217 for vehicles zero to four years old, $87 for vehicles five to 10 years old, and $28 for vehicle 11 years or older, Williams said.

In Louisiana, annual vehicle registration costs are 0.1 percent of the value of the vehicle with a base minimum value of $10,000, which means the lowest registration cost would be $100, he said.

With a base retail price of $28,940, a 2021 Ford F-150 would cost about $289 to register the first year in Louisiana.

“Perhaps we can learn something from them as we look to replace gas taxes with other sources of revenue,” Williams said.

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