Governor to Lawmakers: Let’s Get It Together

Governor Tom Corbett used Pittsburgh’s Liberty Bridge as a backdrop to once again call for a compromise plan to fund Pennsylvania’s transportation infrastructure needs and mass transit.

The governor has his blueprint which would raise about $1.8 billion per year, while Senate Republicans introduced their own plans which they say would generate $2.5 billion annually. Transportation funding is one of the major issues the governor is calling for lawmakers to resolve before breaking for the summer. He’s also pushing for pension reform, liquor privatization and an on-time state budget in the 23 days that remain before the end of the fiscal year.

The governor says 4,000 bridges in Pennsylvania have been declared structurally deficient, to go along with 10,000 miles of roadways considered to be in poor condition. There has been no significant change in the system to fund PA’s roads and bridges since the mid 1990s, when then-Governor Tom Ridge led the effort to institute a gas tax increase.


Busy June on Tap in Harrisburg

The House and Senate are due back in session on June 3rd.  From there only 15-or so session days separate lawmakers form the state budget deadline.  But Governor Tom Corbett views every day as a working day, and there are plenty of policy issues he’d like to see addressed alongside a third consecutive on-time budget. 

“We need to focus on [liquor privatization], we need to focus on pensions, we need to focus on transportation, we need to focus on the budget,” Corbett said on the May edition of Ask the Governor.  “There has been work done behind the scenes.  I believe we can get this done.” 

Most capitol observers, however, would classify passage of two of the three big policy issues as a major victory for the Corbett administration. 

Senate Republican Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware) identifies transportation as the issue most likely to be completed before lawmakers’ summer break.  “We have very, very strong bipartisan interest in transportation infrastructure funding,” he says.  “I think that can certainly be done.” 

Trailing the pack of policy issues, Pileggi says, is pension reform.  “We have not even seen committee action on that plan to date and the bills have just been introduced… that is an incredibly complex and technically difficult task.”   

Following this week’s hearing on liquor privatization, Senate Law & Justice Committee Chairman Charles McIlhinney (R-Bucks) made it clear that he won’t start drafting a bill until after all three public hearings have been completed.  He does not view it as an issue that must be finalized this budget season.  The House version of a privatization bill (HB 790) is viewed as a non-starter in the Senate.

Radio PA Roundtable 05.10.13

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, Brad Christman and Matt Paul remember the life and governorship of George Leader, who passed away Thursday at the age of 95. Also, the big money issues are moving on a faster track in Harrisburg…updates on pension reform and transportation funding.

Radio PA Roundtable is a 30-minute program featuring in-depth reporting on the top news stories of the week.

Click the audio player below to hear the full broadcast:


Radio PA Roundtable 04.19.13

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, Brad Christman and Matt Paul recap a shocking week in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing. Also, a new transportation funding plan surfaces in Harrisburg and the NRA takes over the Eastern Sports & Outdoors Show just as it leads the effort to defeat expanded background checks at gun shows.

Radio PA Roundtable is a 30-minute program featuring in-depth reporting on the top news stories of the week.

Click the audio player below to hear the full broadcast:


Transportation Chair Unveils New Funding Plan

A newly proposed transportation funding package uses Governor Tom Corbett’s plan as a baseline, then goes even further.  In February, Governor Corbett outlined a plan that would raise $1.8-billion dollars annually by year five.  Tuesday, Senate Transportation Chairman John Rafferty unveiled legislation that would generate $2.5-billion by year three

Both proposals would uncap the Oil Company Franchise Tax that gas stations pay, but Rafferty also wants to add a $100-dollar surcharge to traffic violations and hike the state’s vehicle & registration fees that have gone unchanged since 1997.

“We aren’t just going to resurface roads and pave bridges,” Rafferty says, “we’re actually going to add capacity to our transportation infrastructure, which is something that is critically needed.  New lanes on roads, new intersections, new bridges.”

The substantial new investment in Pennsylvania’s transportation infrastructure is designed to improve public safety, create new construction jobs and attract new businesses to the area.  The estimated cost would be $2.50, per week, for the average motorist in Pennsylvania. 

PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch was among the many stakeholders to join Rafferty for Tuesday’s announcement.  Schoch praised the leadership of Sen. Rafferty, but stopped short of fully endorsing his proposal.  “The governor and I have always said we’re open to a dialog… obviously there are balances between the cost to consumers and the benefit,” Schoch says.  “This is a great beginning point of that debate and discussion.”

Knowles: Transportation is Smartest Place to Invest Liquor Privatization Dollars

With a public hearing on liquor privatization now scheduled in the state Senate, a group of state House members is calling for the upfront windfall from the sale of private wine and liquor licenses to be invested in transportation infrastructure. 

State Rep. Jerry Knowles (R-Berks/Schuylkill)

State Rep. Jerry Knowles (R-Berks/Schuylkill)

“It takes each and every dollar from privatization of the wine & spirits shops, and those dollars would be spent on roads and bridges,” state Rep. Jerry Knowles (R-Berks/Schuylkill) said of the legislation he sponsored

The governor wants to see liquor privatization revenue used for education block grants, but the bill that passed the House never designated a specific use for the revenue; it simply created a restricted account to hold the money. 

“I would like to see it be a billion, but it doesn’t matter if it’s $750-million, it doesn’t matter if it’s half a billion,” Knowles said at a capitol news conference.  “That’s still big money where I come from.” 

Knowles and his supporters are wary of being blamed for school funding cuts when the four-year block grant program, envisioned by the governor, expires.  “I want to make it perfectly clear,” Knowles said, “the governor has a good idea, it’s just that I have a better idea.”

Rep. Knowles recognizes that his plan would not raise enough revenue to solve PA’s near $3-billion dollar annual transportation funding shortfall, but he suggests that any legislative solution should start with HB 220. 

Meanwhile Senate Transportation Chair John Rafferty is scheduled to unveil a new funding plan on Tuesday, and the as-of-yet unrelated liquor privatization bill faces an uncertain fate in the chamber.

Saving Amtrak Service through Western PA

Amtrak currently runs one train per day in each direction between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, but the so-called “Pennsylvanian” line was at risk of being slashed if the state didn’t pick up part of the tab.  Amtrak had been asking for $6.5-million dollars a year in state subsidies, but eventually agreed to a $3.8-million dollar deal with Governor Tom Corbett. 

However, the worrying isn’t over in western Pennsylvania just yet.  “The bottom line is we can pay for this service if the transportation funding package does pass,” says PennDOT press secretary Steve Chizmar, “if it doesn’t then it remains to be seen.” 

In February Governor Tom Corbett proposed a transportation funding plan that would raise $5.4-billion dollars over five years.  It included earmarked funds for intermodal transportation.  Many lawmakers were hoping for an even bigger bite at the apple and Senate Transportation Chairman John Rafferty (R-Montgomery) plans to introduce his transportation funding package next month. 

Pennsylvania kicks in $8 – 9-million dollars a year to help fund the Keystone East line, which provides Amtrak service between Philadelphia and Harrisburg.  It does not currently fund the Pennsylvanian line that runs west of Harrisburg. 

The $6.5-million dollar figure Amtrak initially proposed would have amounted to a state subsidy $27-per person, per trip.  The Corbett administration objected to that figure, and Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch called it an “unfair assessment” during last month’s budget hearings. 

On its way from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh, the Pennsylvanian makes stops in Lewistown, Huntingdon, Altoona, Johnstown and Greensburg.