Will better roads lead to higher gas prices?

By Jack Firneno

Wire Staff Writer

Gas prices hit a low last month, but their almost certain increase has some people’s temperature rising.

On Nov. 25, Gov. Tom Corbett signed House Bill 1060. Also known as the Transportation Funding Bill, the comprehensive package calls for an additional $2.3 billion to $2.4 billion in construction and repair on roads and bridges in Pennsylvania, along with increased public transportation funding, over the next five years.

The bill was a hot topic throughout the fall, with lawmakers, labor unions and agencies like PennDOT calling for action on the bill before the end of this year’s legislative session.

As gas prices hit a “multiyear low” on Nov. 12 to $3.18 a gallon, according to the Automobile Association of America, Corbett was calling for the the House of Representatives to pass a transportation bill.

After being voted down 98 to 103 on Nov. 18, the bill was reintroduced in the House the next evening and approved 104 to 95.

However, one of the sticking points that kept it from getting there sooner — a new gas tax — made it into the law. And, not everyone’s happy about that.

“The Pennsylvania legislators who voted yes on this tax should hang their head[s] in shame,” said Jennifer Stefano, director of Americans for Prosperity-Pennsylvania, in a statement. “There is not one redeeming part of this legislation that address the cost to drivers.”

Teri Adams, president of the Independence Hall Tea Party Association, also condemned the gas tax hike, which she noted could lead to up to 30 cents more per gallon. In a statement, she said: “Instead of cutting funds from other areas of the budget to pay for needed bridge and road repairs around the state, the governor and his minions decided to sock it to the taxpayers.” Theoretically, she stated, Pennsylvanians could end up paying more in gas taxes than most other Americans.

Starting Jan. 1, the new law will abolish the flat 12-cent tax that consumers pay at the pump. At the same time, it gradually uncaps the Oil Company Franchise Tax, which is paid at the distributor level. Currently, that tax is capped at $1.25 per gallon, but wholesale gas hasn’t cost that little in almost a decade.

“The cap is being removed over five years to let the market do what it is supposed to do with this tax,” said Erin Waters, spokeswoman for PennDOT. “The reality is, we don’t know the gas price tomorrow let alone five years from now,”

According to Waters, the most significant factor that goes into gas prices is the price of crude oil, with taxes and fees from the government comprising 11 to 12 percent of the price of gas.

“We’ve seen some estimates that, assuming all of those fees were passed on, and again we can’t know that, in the fifth year [of uncapping the tax] it would equate to roughly $2.50 a week more for the average driver,” she said, basing estimates on a 12,000-mile-a-year motorist.

That extra money, however, will go a long way toward making those miles easier on travelers across the region. Since the cost of repairs, but not the taxes to fund them, has increased over the years, “We’ve been making Band-Aid repairs instead of full reconstruction,” said Waters. “Roadways are getting rougher, and congestion is getting worse.”

The new funding plan allocates money for PennDOT to make the kinds of repairs the infrastructure needs, said Waters, along with proper funding for public transportation. “Without this plan, we would have been facing massive cuts for SEPTA, which would have been devastating to the region.”