The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

The Rave

June 7, 2013

Unlikely at any speed

Judging from the 45-5 Senate vote, the state road bill is on the fast track in Harrisburg.

Proposed by Gov. Tom Corbett as his signature accomplishment for a second term, the $1.4 billion plan aims $540 million toward the Central Susquehanna Valley Thruway, the biggest commitment in 40 years.

Thanks to vigorous support and legislative insights from Sens. Gene Yaw and John Gordner representing Valley counties, there is broad-based optimism behind this measure, tempered by realistic expectations for more of a fight in the House of Representatives.

Locally, all eyes may be focused on the carrot. The stick needed to drum up money for the plan is daunting.

The need for road and bridge repairs addressed by the bill is fully documented. The payment plan is a hodgepodge of hope and magic.

Analysts estimate a proposal to lift the cap on wholesale gas prices will mean 25-28 cents a gallon more at the pump in Pennsylvania, which already carries 31 cents in state and 1.1 cent in federal taxes.

At that level, Pennsylvania will be in the stratosphere of gasoline pricing. The condition of the roads may not matter at those rates, because no one will be on them.

Other revenue streams for the bill include higher net fees for less frequently required licenses and registration. This won't be popular with taxpayers who need a payment plan now to fulfill their annual obligations for taxes and fees.

Yet another piece of the puzzle would wring dollars from enforcement in several ways.

The state would allow drivers to buy their way out of registrations suspended for lack of insurance at $500 a pop, like a medieval church selling indulgences.

Fines for speeding tickets would go up $100 and fines for other moving violations -- such as missing red lights or stop signs -- would climb $100-$300.

These devices -- lifting the wholesale cap and turning courts and cops into cashiers for PennDOT -- are political detours around legislative votes to increase taxes.

The approach is wrong-headed and unpredictable. Penalties, fees and fines intend to instill order and encourage safety through deterrence.

We have seen these "soak-the-accused" schemes before. They never work.

Increasing the fines has two results: More law abidance and longer lists of people who cannot pay. Neither produces revenue.

Pennsylvania needs a transportation bill. The fast start is encouraging. But this road to revenue is slippery and unsafe.

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