PBA calls plan to replace state gas tax ‘short-sighted’

A commission created by Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed replacing Pennsylvania’s gas tax primarily with fees based on miles driven and increased use of tolling.

Pattie Cowley
Pattie Cowley

Despite having the second-highest gas tax in the country, the state’s tax revenue isn’t keeping pace with the financial demands of maintaining the state’s roads and bridges. A major reason for the gap is the rise of fuel-efficient and electric-powered vehicles as the federal government is putting pressure on vehicle manufacturers to reduce their carbon footprint.

Increasing tolls as a way to raise funds is short-sighted, says Patricia “Pattie” Cowley, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Bus Association. She was appointed by the governor to serve on the Transportation Revenue Options Commission to help steer decisions in the development of a comprehensive plan to pay for roads, bridges and other modes of transportation.

40-page gas tax report

Stakeholders from around the Commonwealth participated in 10 meetings over a few months. Pennsylvania faces an $8.1 billion annual shortfall for interstates and bridges alone.

The final 40-plus page TROC Report was delivered to the governor and General Assembly in late July. 

“On behalf of the members of the Pennsylvania Bus Association (PBA), I’d like to thank Gov. Tom Wolf and PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian for appointing me to represent the PBA on the Transportation Revenue Option Commission (TROC),” Cowley said. “However, the PBA is disappointed in the final TROC Report that seemingly endorses increases in almost all transportation-related taxes and fees without any serious analysis of the cumulative impact that these taxes and fees would have on motorists, particularly commercial motor vehicles like motorcoaches.”

List of taxes and fees

She added that instead of proposing a comprehensive transportation funding plan that reflects the state’s needs and balances its impact on Pennsylvanians and industries, the TROC Report became a list of taxes and fees that will be punted to the General Assembly to consider.

“It was particularly disappointing that the TROC members did not get to vote on the report or any of its funding options,” Cowley said. 

Phased approach

The TROC Report proposes a phased approach with near-, medium-, and long-term proposals to address the most critical shortfalls in funding levels. 

Specifically, the report calls for a Mileage-Based User Fee (MBUF) in the long-term to fully align revenues with identified needs of $17.95 billion — requiring an additional $9.5 billion annually to close the projected gap between revenues and needs.

“It raises the question as to whether the public and private sector even have the resources to manage that level of spending each year,” said Cowley. 

‘Major Bridge P3 Initiative’

Of greater concern to the PBA is that the bridge tolling proposed under PennDOT’s “Major Bridge P3 Initiative” is separate from the TROC proposal and going forward regardless.

“Unless the General Assembly adopts (state) Sen. Wayne Langerholc’s (R-Cambria) Senate Bill 382 to create checks and balances on the Public-Private Partnership Board, PennDOT is free to use the P3 process to adopt corridor tolling and managed lanes (limited lane tolling) in high-volume corridors, which the TROC Report also identifies for the medium-term,” Cowley said. “Like bridge tolling, these tolling proposals would be done through the P3 board and not by our elected officials.” 

She added that the PBA recognizes the need for additional transportation funding and will continue to work with the administration and the General Assembly on fair funding proposals that do not disproportionately impact commercial vehicles. 

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