Lawmakers, industry experts and others debate the right way to get the state’s highways fixed
Pennsylvania has a money problem. Everyone involved seems to accept that.
But what no one seems able to agree on, is what the nature of that money problem is.
And even when you answer that question, there’s disagreement – different solutions being proposed by different people with different agendas.
“Land Line Now” has brought together all the sides, all the choices, all the debate, and tried to answer the basic question – how do we fix Pennsylvania?
It’s your dime
Who’s paying the money may be the easiest part of the Pennsylvania puzzle to solve.
The answer: It’s you.
Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, offered a few numbers:
“The typical one-truck owner-operator, the one-truck businessman pays $17,500 every year in federal and state highway user fees – $17,500 dollars,” he said. “That’s a gob of money.
“Every truck that enters Pennsylvania pays fuel tax on every mile they turn in the state of Pennsylvania. They pay the registration fee for every mile they run in Pennsylvania. We don’t get any free lunch. And people that drive cars in Pennsylvania will pay in the area of $700 to $800 every year for this state’s highway system.”
And it’s not just truckers who recognize this fact. A recent posting on the Clarion, Pennsylvania, Chamber of Commerce Web site says this: “A single local independent trucking company reports that in 2006, the 50 trucks in his fleet paid $218,000 in fuel tax, $77,500 for license plates, $27,500 for combined use tax, plus additional taxes on tires.”
So where is all that money going once it reaches the highway trust fund?
Much of it is diverted.
Princeton University’s WordNet Dictionary defines the word “divert” this way: “To send on a course or in a direction different from the planned or intended one.”
And that’s certainly what happens with a huge portion of America’s highway dollars – especially in Pennsylvania. We’ve shown that.
That fact is what irritates – even angers – so many people in the trucking industry. OOIDA’s Mike Joyce explains.
“Roads aren’t free; there are no free ways or free highways out there,” he said. “I think it’s important to point that out. I mean, all (truckers) are paying fuel tax, and heavy vehicle use tax, excise tax, tire taxes; we’ve talked about it countless times.
“Those roads are not free ways or free roads whatsoever; we are paying into the system. I think what our highway users, what our members have been saying to us is, tell us why you need additional money and resources to pay for these infrastructure improvement projects? What have you done with the resources we’ve already provided to you?
“Pennsylvania is one of the two highest fuel taxes in this country. What are they doing with the money, is it all going to get diverted?)”
Transportation enhancements are a big part of that problem. Millions upon millions of dollars from the highway trust fund are dedicated to biking and hiking trails, museums, historic sites, street beautification projects, and on and on.
Those enhancements aren’t the only thing leaching away road money. Mass transit plays a part as well.
State Rep. David Argall says the running deficits of Pennsylvania’s mass transit systems have been a continual headache for legislators and others in government.
“We’ve been trying to deal with the problem of transportation funding for several years, ever