Sunday, December 25, 2011

My take on the GOP plan to fund PA transportation (Apr. 13, 2010)

Current mood: confident

After Pennsylvania's plan to place tolls on I-80 failed, Rep. Rick Geist (R-Altoona) proposed an 11-point plan to fund the repairs on PA's aging bridges and highways, and ongoing mass transit systems. In my opinion, they're worthy of serious consideration.

Geist's plan:

Notable in the article is his mention that he knew the thing would fail back in July 2007. He's been sitting on this ever since. Here's my take on his 11 things:

  1. Public-private partnerships: I read this proposal top to bottom in November 2005 when he first proposed it. It doesn't mention transit once in about 80 pages. I'm skeptical and a little worried, but only because it's so complicated I don't know really what it represents.
  2. State police funding. This clearly benefits highway funding at the expense of the State Police. It is simply doing to them what they did to mass transit a long time ago: Get in line for the soup pot like everyone else.
  3. Design-build. I'm not sure what it does for money one way or another. I think it means "foundation upon which to build sweetheart deals". Has zero to do with transit. Not a show-stopper, though.
  4. Tolling I-95. This makes some sense. I-95 is a better candidate than I-80 for tolling. It would take a lot of pressure off of PennDOT to find a bazillion dollars to fix I-95, which will help PA figure out how to fix everything else that's falling apart.
  5. Turnpike payments to PennDOT. Good, necessary, responsible, even if a little messy.
  6. Turnpike commissioners. A political move, but not without a grain of reason. Lord knows the Turnpike Commission can't get any worse.
  7. Hiring out maintenance on certain roads. I don't see where this saves money, but it might, if only in reducing state payroll (read: pension liability). Again, zero to do with transit.
  8. Oil company franchise tax increase. This has long been needed. It will result in an increase in gasoline costs without being a politically unpopular per-gallon tax increase.
  9. Increase local transit match to 25%. Nice idea, and it might work. This did come from the TFRC (Transportation Funding Reform Commission), not the GOP itself. The devil is in the details, but I don't see this as a show-stopper. Also see the next item, which helps.
  10. Expanded local tax options. This makes a good bit of sense. Each county would be given some leeway in how it comes up with the tax money it won't get from the state. Personally, I think a realty tax would work better than a sales tax.
  11. Vehicle Miles Traveled tax. Saving the best for last, I really do like this one. It very nicely gets around the Constitution Article VIII Section 11A restriction on motor fuels. Tax the miles traveled. The most miles traveled will be done where the most need for transit is.

So, in summary, if the GOP came up with this, and there are no show-stoppers in it (which I don't see, though that first one worries me), then there might just be some sense in starting here. If the GOP is essentially on board with this, then this might actually get passed, and might actually work. I don't trust Geist, but he does know transportation, and transportation funding, and that has to count for something. He's a highway guy, but not scathingly anti-transit, like Punxsutawney's Sam Smith, or Cranberry Township's Daryl Metcalfe.

I'm pretty sure Geist sat down and thought about just this possibility, as soon as Act 44 became law, thinking "OK, go fight with the FHWA and see how far you get, but when you fail, come back and talk to me."

Post-Script: One little "gotcha" that came up is related to the oil franchise tax. Apparently that will enable the PA Turnpike to continue planning to build the MFSoB, i.e., the Mon-Fayette/Southern Beltway. Bad, bad, bad.

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