By John Finnerty
CNHI Harrisburg Correspondent
A Crawford County Republican state lawmaker said he plans to introduce a bill that would spell out a plan to direct billions of tax dollars to transportation projects without raising taxes.
PennDOT officials say that the approach could be used to augment a funding plan that depends on an increase in the wholesale tax on gas, but they don’t believe state Rep. Brad Roae’s plan could replace the original funding formula.
Roae was in a group of rural Republicans who refused to support the transportation funding plan proposed by Gov. Tom Corbett. The lawmakers balked because the governor’s plan and a subsequent Senate bill modeled on Corbett’s plan, depended on what would essentially be a 25 cents a gallon tax increase.
Roae is proposing a bill that would use the sales tax on automobile sales for roads and bridges. That money now goes into the general fund. The Commonwealth collects approximately $1.2 billion in sales tax revenue based on automobile sales in Pennsylvania.
Roae’s bill would begin in the 2014-15 state budget by transitioning 10 percent of that amount, or $120 million, from the state budget – where it currently goes – to the state Motor License Fund, which is used to pay for road and bridge repairs.
Roae said he has spoken to PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch about the bill.
“It is not their first choice, but their first choice does not have enough support to pass. They really want more money to fix roads and bridges and this plan gives them money,” Roae said.
At its max, Roae’s plan would only spend roughly half the $2.5 billion a year proposed in a Senate transportation bill.
A PennDOT spokeswoman said agency officials still prefer the governor’s plan.
“(Roae’s) proposal could be an option in addition to the governor’s plan, but not to replace it,” said Jaime Legenos, a PennDOT spokesman.
The governor’s office would not directly respond to Roae’s plan.
“Governor Corbett will continue to work with the Legislature to get a transportation funding proposal in place,” Corbett spokeswoman Kelli Roberts said. “We made great progress this spring on a balanced proposal, and we will continue those efforts come fall.”
In 2015-16, the amount would be increased to 20 percent, or $240 million. The amount would continue to increase by 10 percent each year until, in the 2023-24 fiscal year, 100 percent of the sales tax revenue generated from automobile sales would be used to fund road and bridge repairs.
“This is a tax-free way to fix our roads and bridges without adding any additional burden to Pennsylvania families or businesses,” Roae said. “My proposal would ensure that existing tax dollars paid by automobile drivers go to pay for the upkeep of our roads and bridges.”
State. Rep. Mark Longietti, Hermitage, D-7th District, said that he would be concerned about Roae’s plan because the money that would getting redirected to roads and bridges would be coming from other programs.
“The easy part is identifying the source of revenue,” Longietti said. “The hard part would be determining where to cut.”
Longietti was among a group of Democrats who voted against the transportation funding plan in a committee meeting. Days later, House leaders announced that the measure would not be put up for a vote of the full House because there were not enough votes for it to pass. It is unclear how many Republicans, like Roae, were opposed to the plan. But House leaders said no Democrats would vote for the transportation funding.
The $120 million that would be moved from the state General Fund in the first year represents approximately four-tenths of 1 percent of the current $28.4 billion state budget, Roae said.