Sunday, December 25, 2011

My letter to PA legislators on transportation funding (July 24, 2010)

Current mood: hopeful

Dear [Rep. Turzai & Sen. Orie],

Regarding transit as well as highway/bridge funding, I hope you are not of the same mind as Sen. Kim Ward of Westmoreland County. Her recent remarks – “If these [transit] authorities were businesses, they would have to find ways to cut or to work more efficiently...” – indicate she is misinformed.

As you will recall, one of the findings of the Transportation Funding Reform Commission was agreeing with what Republicans had been saying for a while, that PA’s urban transit agencies indeed were in need of streamlining, and this became required under Act 44. Port Authority’s TDP route changes now being implemented are the direct result.

You will also recall PAT held the line in the 2008 labor contract negotiations like they never did before. That matter went to fact finding which sided with management; the union balked and very nearly struck, but was forced to relent.

If these are not the sort of changes Ms. Ward wants to see happen, what is?

As to the fix, for transit I suggest a Vehicle Miles Traveled tax of $1 per 1,000 miles traveled.
•    This is fair, in that the more funds collected in an area, the more that transit is needed in that area, even if currently absent.
•    This is equitable, in that it encourages transit use where available.
•    This is minimally regressive in that it amounts to less than half a tank of gas in a year’s time for most cars (15,000 miles/year = $15/year).
•    This is constitutional in that it is not a motor fuels tax or fee, per Article VIII, Section 11A, as amended in 1945.
•    This is easy to collect as it can be added to either the registration fee or the inspection fee, both of which already require odometer readings and a fee payment.

As for highways and bridges, when the 1945 amendment was passed, the reasoning was that their upkeep would be funded through fuel taxes. So, if it is not collecting enough to keep the roads and bridges fixed, either raise the tax, or require PennDOT to economize and streamline like transit is doing.

Please work with others in Harrisburg to get these funding fixes in place. While I am well aware of GOP pledges not to raise taxes (being a Republican myself), the responsible thing for your constituency is to make sure the right things get done.

Stuart Strickland

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