Tuesday, June 14, 2011

PA Trans Commission Looking to Bridge Funding Gap

Governor Tom Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Commission has gotten a lot of attention, as it puts together suggestions on energy policy. But another panel is quietly working on policy recommendations for the Corbett Administration, too, and its report could have a bigger impact on Pennsylvanians’ daily lives.

The Transportation Funding Advisory Commission has a big challenge: it needs to figure out how to fill a multi-billion dollar funding gap, while working around Corbett’s vow to not increase taxes. PennDOT spokesman Dennis Buterbaugh says the commission recently listened to a presentation on tolling a stretch of Highway 422. “But,” he explained, “the commission is not going to make any decision on tolling a specific route, like 422. It was just a very good example of what’s involved, and could possibly, or possibly not, be a way to try and bridge some of this funding gap.”

Buterbaugh said the commission is also considering ways to save money. No suggestion, he said, is too narrow. “[Ideas] can be something as small as eliminating the little sticker – the annual registration sticker – on your license plate. That can save the commonwealth some money. Many states have taken that step because it’s really just an unnecessary step now.” Another possibility: extending drivers’ license renewal period. “Currently the driver’s license time is four years,” said Buterbaugh. “There’s been talk about possibly extending that, because again, that would be a cost-savings to the commonwealth. They won’t have to go through that process of processing someone’s driver’s license more than every four years, if they can go five years, six years, perhaps longer.”

The federal government’s rejection of an I-80 tolling scheme and other factors have led to a funding gap of more than three billion dollars. Last year, Governor Rendell convened a special legislative session to fill the hole, and called for an increased gasoline tax, among other ideas. None of his suggestions ever came to a vote.