Pennsylvania Gov creates transportation funding taskforce

The 35-member taskforce is charged with coming up with solutions to the state’s $3.5bn annual transportation funding shortfall. Republican Governor Tom Corbett is open to considering PPPs while tax increases are ‘absolutely not’ part of the solution.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett has convened a 35-member transportation advisory taskforce, marking the latest attempt to tackle the state’s $3.5 billion annual transportation funding shortfall.

The taskforce, officially dubbed the Transportation Funding Advisory Commission, also marks at least the third group the state has formed in recent years to advise the state government on its transportation issues, following two commissions in 2006 and 2010 under the former governor.

The 2006 taskforce documented a $1.7 billion a year transportation funding shortfall. Four years later, after attempts to raise cash by leasing the state’s turnpike and tolling Pennsylvania’s portion of I-80 fell through, another transportation advisory group upped that estimate to $3.5 billion-a-year.

This time, however, the state is expecting different results from the taskforce, according a spokesperson for the governor.

“This transportation taskforce is really tasked with finding a long-term funding option for our transportation needs here in Pennsylvania,” said Kelli Roberts, a spokesperson for Corbett. She said the previous transportation commissions were more concerned with scoping out the size of the state’s transportation funding need, which by now is “very well documented”.

“This is really the next step,” she added. 

Corbett named a mix of 35 executives from the public and private sector to the commission, including several representatives of construction firms, railroads, local government administrators and investment bankers.

Potential solutions that Corbett, a Republican, is willing to consider include creating a transportation trust fund, Roberts said, as well as enabling public-private partnerships. Tax increases, however, are “absolutely not” part of the solution, she said.

Corbett’s predecessor, Democrat Ed Rendell, had favoured indexing the state’s gas tax to inflation as part of a comprehensive transportation funding package he championed prior to leaving office in January. However, the last-minute push was rebuffed by the Republican-led legislature, which preferred to table the issue until Corbett took office.

At the taskforce’s first meeting this morning, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch said he wants the commission to develop a plan for financing a “decade of transportation investment” in Pennsylvania, according to Rich Kilpatrick, the department’s press secretary.

The taskforce’s recommendations are due 1 August, enough time, Roberts said, to “come up with the right answers” to the state’s transportation funding challenges.

PPP bill ready to go

One solution to the state’s transportation funding shortfall is ready for action.

A bill to enable public-private partnerships in is on the calendar in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and may get voted on in the first or second week of May, according to Greg Grasa, legislative aide to the bill’s sponsor, Republican Representative Rick Geist.

“We don’t need any more analysis of the scale of the problem,” Grasa said, adding that now was the time for the state to act to fix the transportation funding problem.

If the bill passes, it would be the first time in four sessions that the House will have passed a bill enabling public-private partnerships, Grasa said. Additionally, Grasa believes it may be possible for the Pennsylvania Senate to consider the bill as a stand-alone measure, which could enable it to pass more quickly.

“We’re hopeful,” Grasa said.