HARRISBURG — A bill that would boost state spending on Pennsylvania’s transportation systems by almost 50 percent while making the state’s fuel tax rates one of the nation’s highest received resounding support from senators Wednesday, but is headed toward an uncertain fate in the House of Representatives.
The 45-5 vote brought together rural conservatives and urban liberals in what proponents called a plan that would protect the safety of Pennsylvania motorists, provide a badly needed economic boost to the state and improve commerce and the quality of life in Pennsylvania.
If any senators had been wary of taking an unpopular vote to increase taxes, the bill’s sponsor, Senate Transportation Committee Chairman John Rafferty urged them to address a core function of government to protect health, safety and welfare.
“Do not let fear or what could happen make nothing happen,” Rafferty said. “We have to make something happen. … The worst thing we could do in Pennsylvania is do nothing. Then you’re going to see more bridges close, more bridges weight-restricted. We’re going to start losing more businesses.”
In the House, Republican leaders are skeptical of the bill’s $2.5 billion price tag, and time is ticking down to July 1, when lawmakers traditionally leave Harrisburg for the summer. Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, backs a more modest $1.8 billion proposal that he unveiled in January.
Both plans rely primarily on gradually increasing a wholesale gas tax by 28.5 cents a gallon over several years, giving Pennsylvania among the nation’s highest fuel tax rates. The Senate plan also would raise money by increasing fees on vehicle registration, driver’s licenses and traffic violations.