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Pennsylvania Gas Tax Hike Clears House

In a dramatic 24-hour turnaround, the House voted to support Gov. Tom Corbett's proposal to lift the cap on the state's oil franchise tax that could potentially add 28 cents to gas prices. A prevailing wage issue caused the bill's defeat earlier.
November 21, 2013, 6am PST | Irvin Dawid
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"Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch said he and other Corbett officials worked through the day to persuade some lawmakers to support the legislation," writes Amy Worden about the $2.3 billion transportation bill that had been rejected on a 98-103 vote on Monday.  

"The proposal would increase motorists' fees - for drivers' licenses, registration, and moving violations - starting in 2015 and lift the decades-old cap on the oil franchise tax, which some say could mean an increase of as much as 28 cents per gallon at the pump based on wholesale prices in 2013," Worden writes.

The proposal - one of Gov. Corbett's top agenda initiatives - would increase gas taxes and motor vehicle license fees to raise $1.65 billion needed to repair aging bridges and roads and about $475 million for cash-strapped mass-transit systems.

The vote "blurred party lines" due to a provision affecting prevailing or union-scale wages on transportation projects. The bill would exempt lower cost transportation projects from the higher wage requirement.

Politico's Emily Schultheis, writing a day earlier about Monday's rejection of the bill, describes the non-partisan nature that transportation bills have the potential to take in state legislatures.

Transportation issues bring members of both parties together in a way few other issues do — and generally earn high marks from voters, who expect state government to fix their roads and improve their public transit. It’s an especially big deal in the crucial southeastern region of the state, where the need for transportation funding is dire. 

Along those lines, Worden writes, "Most of the Philadelphia delegation - and many suburban Republicans and Democrats - supported the bill because of its dedicated transit funding. SEPTA officials applauded the vote, which would avert the adoption of the "doomsday budget" that could mean rail-line closures."

The bill now goes to the Senate which had passed a similar transportation funding bill last June as we previously posted here.

If the bill were to become law, Pennsylvania could have the highest gas tax after the tax cap was fully lifted, according to this chart (PDF) prepared earlier this year, warned the tax group, Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania.

Corbett, a Republican, is up for reelection next year. This bill is among his highest priorities. His Facebook page praised the House for passing the bill.

UPDATE (11/21/2013): On a 43-7 vote, the Pennsylvania Senate passed the House transportation funding bill on Wednesday. It now returns to the House for a last ratification, anticipated today, "after which the bill is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett," writes Charles Thompson of The Patriot News.

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Published on Wednesday, November 20, 2013 in The Philadelphia Inquirer
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