The road not taken: Corbett should act on his transportation report

The road not taken: Corbett should act on his transportation report

Sunday, January 08, 2012
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

With a triumvirate of state government -- Senate, House and governor's office -- entirely in the control of Republicans, what some Democratic members want may not be persuasive with the Corbett administration.

That's too bad, because what a trio of Democrats want is also what some Republican legislators want -- and certainly what most Pennsylvanians, regardless of party affiliation, desire: Action to make sure the state's roads and bridges don't deteriorate further and its mass transit authorities have enough funding to survive.

In August the governor's Transportation Funding Advisory Commission listed $2.7 billion worth of recommendations that would go a long way to doing just that.

They included steps such as lifting a cap on the Oil Company Franchise Tax and raising the annual fee for vehicle registration (which hasn't gone up since 1997) and the cost of a driver's license. The costs to the average motorist would be relatively small, the benefits to the commonwealth huge.

Yet Gov. Tom Corbett has failed to act on his own commission's report, ignoring its warning that doing nothing would only make the problem worse. The governor says he is studying the issue, although, like so many official reports, this one looks to have been sent to the elephants' graveyard, ironically now managed by the Republican elephants.

Last week three frustrated House Democrats -- Reps. Dan Frankel of Squirrel Hill, Mike Hanna of Clinton County and Mike Sturla of Lancaster County -- called a news conference to say bipartisan support exists for a solution to the transportation funding problem, and that the Legislature should tackle it before taking on more politically charged issues.

But state Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch, who chaired the commission, said other issues, including school vouchers and fees on Marcellus Shale drilling, are higher priorities for the governor, who wants to be cautious of revenue-raising proposals because of "the fragile state of the economy."

This is strange thinking. In the reckoning of the governor's own commission, implementation of its recommendations would create 135,000 to 145,000 full-time jobs over the next decade.

And doing nothing comes with its own economy-killing costs. State spending on roads and bridges is expected to be $1.5 billion this year, down from $2 billion last year -- even as the need for maintenance and repairs becomes more urgent. More than 8,000 miles of the state's roads are classified as being in "poor" condition and more than 5,000 bridges are judged structurally deficient.

Any administration is entitled to its priorities, but can't this one walk and chew gum at the same time? Not everybody will ever get school vouchers and not everybody is a Marcellus Shale driller, but every Pennsylvanian depends on well-maintained roads and bridges and many depend on public transit (if funding isn't found for that, the Port Authority of Allegheny County will make another round of horrendous service cuts in September).

If Gov. Corbett continues to ignore his commission's recommendations, the road not taken will make all the difference to the fragile economy -- and none of it will be good.

First published on January 8, 2012 at 12:00 am