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Politics & Government

State Senate Passes Transportation Bill

The state Senate has passed a transportation funding plan, after years of calls for action and months of legislative discussions.

By the fifth year of the plan's implementation, the state would be yielding $2.5 billion. The money would come largely from higher driver's license and vehicle registration fees, surcharges on traffic violations, and the removal of the cap on a tax paid by gas stations.

"Or as some people like to call them, user fees," said Sen. John Rafferty pointedly on the Senate floor Wednesday.

The Transportation Committee chairman continued: "If you're using the roads and bridges, you're going to help pay for the new construction and refurbishing of our roads and bridges."

It is largely because of those motorist fees that the plan would raise about $700 million more than a plan the governor presented.

"The worst thing we can do in Pennsylvania is do nothing," said Rafferty (R-Bucks), in the floor remarks before a final vote. "Then you're going to see more bridges close, more bridges weight restricted - we're going to start losing more businesses."

The vote was 45-5. Just three Democrats and two Republicans voted against it.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa said he was pleased with the final vote.

"I think it sends a very strong and clear message that we in the Senate are prepared to address transportation funding," he said, "and we think that it's something that needs to be done and get to the governor's desk as soon as possible."

House members may not be such willing passengers: some Republicans have already noted the appetite is low for voting for higher motorist fees or anything that could boost the price of gas.

Sen. John Wozniak, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Transportation Committee, suggested lawmakers who balk at the $2.5 billion in new revenue faced few other options for filling PennDOT's annual multi-billion dollar funding gap.

"What we need to do cannot be done by tightening belts, saving paper clips, and cutting pieces of paper in fourths to make memo pads out of them," agreed Sen. John Wozniak, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Transportation Committee. "We need capital."

"Transportation funding is core responsibility of state government," said Republican Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, "and it has been 16 years since Pennsylvania enacted a meaningful transportation funding program."