A bill soon to be introduced in the state Senate will use an increase in gasoline taxes to improve safety and create jobs, according to Senate officials.
Cheryl Hicks, executive director of the Senate Democratic Transportation Committee, said the bill is a three-year $2.5 billion spending plan. Sen. John Wozniak, D-Westmont, is chairman of the committee.
She said the bill does not outline any specific project, but it will make sure funds are available for work across the state.
The bill calls for an increase in the gasoline tax. Pennsylvania has a 12-cent flat tax — and oil companies have a franchise tax based on the wholesale price of gasoline. Under current law there is a $1.25 per gallon cap.
“We’re losing taxes on $2 of the wholesale price per gallon,” she said. “The bill removes the cap and allows the oil company franchise tax to be assessed on the entire wholesale price.”
While the tax is levied on companies, not the consumer, there is no measure to stop companies from passing the increase to the consumer. The gasoline tax in considered a user fee for those who travel on the roads, Hicks said.
Hicks said the motor license fund, which is the fund that holds money for transportation projects, has remained stagnant since 1997, when the last gas tax increase was approved.
There has been a 20-percent increase in road project costs since 1997, she said.
“One of the reasons is the same reason gasoline prices go up,” she said. “The price of oil goes up as asphalt goes up. The cost to run the equipment increases. It is all connected. You cannot do those projects without fuel or asphalt.”
She said Pennsylvania roads and bridges are in need of repair and funding is needed to complete those projects.
Hicks said that if the bill reaches the governor’s desk, lawmakers believe he will sign it, but there are concerns that some lawmakers may not want to raise the gasoline tax.
“There is some concern,” she said. “Obviously there are members that have not completely wrapped their head around the fact that this is a user’s fee. While it’s a tax on what you’re using to use the system it is not a tax someone who is not using the system is going to pay. That is the message we are trying to portray but some are just saying ‘well it’s a tax I can’t vote for it.’”
State Rep. Carl Walker Metzgar, R-Allegheny Township, said that he is familiar with the proposed Senate plan.
“It is a very heavy task to ask members of the House to raise the fuel tax 20- to 30- cents a gallon,” he said. “Especially in this economy at this point it is something I cannot fathom.”
Metzgar said that some of his colleagues are in favor of raising the tax.
“The urban legislators are inclined to tax us all in exchange to get a bunch of money for mass transit,” he said. “It is urban versus rural. I think no one has a problem with funding transportation, building roads and bridges. Whenever you see a full 1/3 of the transportation budget going to mass transit I think that’s a big problem.”
Somerset County Commissioner John Vatavuk said improvements to the state’s transportation systems are needed so Pennsylvania can compete with other states. He said Maryland, Ohio and Virginia have all passed new transportation bills to address their needs. Vatavuk said one Pennsylvania company relocated to Virginia because their bridges are rated for their larger tanker trucks.
“Improving highway infrastructure would make us more competitive for industry,” he said. “If we want to stay competitive we have to improve.”
Vatavuk said that the bill being passed may improve the state’s chances of completing Route 219 from Meyersdale to Maryland.