HARRISBURG — Former Gov. Ed Rendell Thursday urged state legislators to pass the transportation funding bill that allocates $2.5 billion to fix Pennsylvania’s roads and bridges.
Rendell sent a letter to the 203 members of the House urging their support for Senate Bill 1, a measure that would also address infrastructure needs in Pennsylvania, and reminded legislators that raising revenue does not translate into losing re-election.
“Elected representatives should not be concerned about politics when it comes to the safety of our roads and bridges,” Rendell said. “This issue transcends politics and it will create thousands of jobs in Pennsylvania.”
State Rep. Mike Carroll, D-Avoca, is a member of the House Transportation Committee, which held a hearing Thursday on Senate Bill 1. Carroll said he is “keenly aware” of the importance of a safe and efficient transportation system.
“I’m also aware of the costs to motorists associated with the current system, which provides closed or posted bridges, emergency bridge closures on our interstates and highways and local roads that simply are not up to par,” Carroll said. “Senate Bill 1 offers the House of Representatives an opportunity to rectify these deficiencies thereby improving safety and improving our economy.”
Carroll said besides the obvious safety and efficiency improvements, the additional funding would have a positive effect on the state’s economy and help preserve and create jobs.
Carroll said he welcomes the debate related to SB 1 and expects the House to amend the bill in the coming days to reflect the priorities a majority of the members of the House of Representatives embrace.
“While there is no way to know for certain what changes will be considered, I do expect the transportation funding proposal to be considered by the Transportation Committee next week and remain hopeful for a bill to be approved by month’s end,” he said.
In his letter to the legislators, Rendell said Pennsylvania is facing “a daunting and well-documented crisis in funding for transportation infrastructure needs.” He said raising the necessary revenue to support the state’s crumbling infrastructure system and under-financed transportation system is critical.
“I know that many predict dire political consequences in 2014 for those who support this tax increase,” Rendell said. “From personal experience, I can tell you this — it is not true.”
Rendell said history shows that those who support tax increases do not face certain electoral defeat, noting he signed a significant tax package in his first term as governor and was re-elected by a margin of more than 20 points.
Rendell said 28 percent of Pennsylvania’s bridges are still structurally deficient and 22 percent of Pennsylvania’s state-owned road miles are in poor condition.
“The longer we delay fixing these conditions, the more expensive it will be to fix them down the road,” he said. “We must act now.”
Rendell said studies indicate that the average motorist will lose well over $100 in gasoline during times when their cars are idling because they are stuck in traffic congestion.
According to Abe Amoros, Pennsylvania Legislative Director with the Laborers’ International Union of North America/Mid Atlantic Region, said 26.5 percent of Luzerne County bridges are structurally deficient. He said 679,469 cars per day cross structurally deficient bridges in Luzerne County.
State Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, said the substantial and growing gap between the rising cost and number of transportation needs and available revenues that are flat-lining would have serious economic and safety consequences if left unaddressed.
“With a broad coalition of community groups and transportation advocates pressing for a vote, this is the right time for responsible action,” Baker said. “While it is never a good time to ask people to pay more, as least with transportation improvements you get to see what you pay for.”
State Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, said SB 1 will not only improve public safety, it is also critical for economic development and attracting new jobs to Pennsylvania.
“Our roads and bridges are among the worst in the nation and that needs to change,” Yudichak said. “This bill is a viable long-term solution that will improve the quality and safety of our transportation infrastructure.”
State Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, said Gov. Tom Corbett should dip into “pots of money they aren’t using.”
Pashinski said he has a plan to “really close” the Delaware loophole and also lower the state corporate net income tax. He said those efforts, combined with Medicaid expansion would create nearly 100,000 new jobs that would generate hundreds of millions of dollars in state taxes per year.
“I’m trying to prevent the cost of road and bridge repairs to be paid for by the citizens of Pennsylvania,” Pashinski said.
Pashinski also said it’s time to pass the gas extraction tax on the Marcellus shale industry that he says would add millions to the state coffers.