Transportation bill yields praise, ire from local representatives

The General Assembly passed a transportation bill Thursday that would provide more than $2.3 billion to projects around the state, addressing the issue of deteriorating roads and bridges.

The state Senate passed the bill 43-7 on Wednesday, and the state House voted 113-85 Thursday afternoon to send it to Gov. Tom Corbett.

Sen. Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, has been a longtime supporter of transportation funding and is happy that the General Assembly was able to come to a bipartisan conclusion.

“I just think it’s an important investment in the future of Pennsylvania,” he said. “It has tremendous benefits for Centre County.”

The bill would provide funding for work on U.S. Route 322 as well as the Waddle Road interchange — two roads that Corman said need work because they are dangerous. It also would provide funding for bridge repairs and give the Fish and Boat Commission an additional funding stream that Corman is confident will provide Colyer Lake with the money it needs to fix its dam.

The bill largely would be funded through an increase in the gasoline tax, which would result in higher prices at the pump. But Corman said the cost of doing nothing eventually would result in more detours around closed bridges and wear and tear on vehicles from under-maintained roads.

The financing phases in over the next five years, so there is not expected to be a large, immediate jump of prices at the pump, according to a state Department of Transportation news release. Residents should expect to pay about $2.50 more per week on fuel in the fifth year of the plan, according to the release.

For Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township, the increase at the pump is too much, and alternative options haven’t been explored. He said he thinks it will hurt the working class people.

Conklin initiated a multibill package in May to propose transportation reform through other means, such as closing the so-called Delaware loophole and imposing a natural gas severance fee of 5 cents per 1,000 cubic feet. The Delaware loophole is a tax avoidance strategy for Pennsylvania corporations based out of Delaware to avoid corporate tax.

Those two cut-cutting measures could raise $886 million within a year, Conklin’s chief of staff, Tor Michaels, said.

“When you’re leaving all these other alternatives on the table, this is just outrageous,” he said.

Michaels said Conklin supports transportation infrastructure reform, but he doesn’t approve of funding it through a tax increase with other options available.

Conklin voted against the bill, and Rep Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, voted in favor.

Because the bill was widely supported by both parties, especially in the Senate, Corman said it was a successful back and forth between Republicans and Democrats.

“It was the way the legislative process is supposed to work,” he said.