It’s no April Fools’ joke.
As part of the Pennsylvania’s new transportation laws, motorists are to pay more for driving privileges due to scheduled fee increases that started Tuesday.
Drivers seeking duplicate state identification cards or buying a new car now must pay higher fees for duplicate cards, title transfers and duplicate registrations as part of a transportation system overhaul signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett in November.
The amended law, known as Act 89, is to bolster the state’s revenue with gasoline-tax increases and sweeping increases to driver-service fees to add roughly $2.3 billion to the state’s coffers over the next five years.
The money is destined to pay for repairs to crumbling state roads and bridges as well as improve public transportation needs.
As a result of Act 89, the tax on gasoline rose 12 cents a gallon. So far, Northeastern Pennsylvania drivers on average have seen the pump price grow by about 15 cents since the end of December, according the website www.pennsylvaniagasprices.com.
Revenue from the gas tax is to be used exclusively for road and bridge work.
Filling up his vehicle at the Sheetz gas station in Trucksville, Tom Dziak of Clarks Summit said driving on Pennsylvania roads has become hazardous, especially considering this season’s unprecedented harvest of potholes, and he’d be willing to chip in on one condition.
“It’s like a war zone out there,” Dziak said, “I’m OK with paying a little bit more as long as they use it to fix the roads.”
Leaving the Drivers License Center in Hanover Township, Russell Collins of Scranton said he thinks differently about the fee increase. He believes the raised fees are a rushed remedy born out of an unprepared administration, he said.
“The big problem here is that for years … they did nothing about raising the fees gradually. Instead of keeping on top of everything, they waited until it’s an emergency situation,” Collins said.
Act 89 will raise fees for different types of motorists — such as truckers, RV owners, motorcycle drivers and regular C-Class drivers — at scheduled times, with more roll-outs slated for July 1, 2014, and Jan. 1 and July 1, 2015.
Of the salient changes, drivers can expect to see annual fee increases for drivers license and registration renewals starting July, 1, 2015.
And starting Jan. 1, drivers who have had their licenses suspended for driving without insurance will pay $500 to get road privileges back rather than waiting the probationary three months.
The first wave of changes that went into effect Tuesday increased cost for duplicate licenses ($5 to $19 plus the cost of photograph). The fee to change a vehicle title increased from $22.50 to $50. And the fee for duplicate driver registration documents rose from $5 to $8.
During the first year of changes, motorists can expect to pay, on average, about $2.50 more each week for the right to drive a car, said a spokesman for Gov. Corbett, Steve Chizmar.
By the fifth year, the revenue from increased fees is to add:
• $1.3 billion for roads and bridges;
• $480 to $490 million annually for public transportation;
• $144 million annually for local roads and bridges; and
• $86 million for Pennsylvania Turnpike expansion.
Corbett, who advocated for Act 89, praised the law for its bi-partisan support.
However, during a telephone news conference Tuesday, Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairman Jim Burn said Corbett — when campaigning four years ago — had pledged to leave taxes and fees untouched if elected.
Burn said Corbett “campaigned and probably won on that no-tax pledge.”
Chizmar defended the governor, saying safety was the underlying factor behind Act 89.
“When you lead the nation with the number of structurally deficient bridges, you do what is necessary,” Chizmar said. “Looking at this from a tax perspective, the bottom line is he modernized an outdated financing structure that never kept up with inflation to meet the demands of our roads and bridges.”
Chizmar stressed Act 89 makes provisions for other transportation improvements as well, and better state roads and bridges will prove a more desirable place for companies to set up shop.
“The bottom line is this was simply the right thing to do,” he said.
Burn said state Democrats have not endorsed one of the four remaining Democratic gubernatorial candidates running in this year’s election.