By State Rep. John Lawrence
Last week, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a $2.3 billion transportation bill that includes an increase in funding for roads, bridges, mass transit, rail freight, ports, airports, and bike paths. The governor signed the bill into law earlier this week.
As a state representative, you have elected me to represent the people of Southern Chester County to the best of my ability. After many months of speaking with constituents in my office, the grocery store, the barber shop, over the phone and in over a dozen town hall meetings across the district, I had hundreds, maybe thousands, of conversations about the transportation needs of this state with people in our community.
In speaking with constituents, I heard a common consensus: something must be done to address a decaying infrastructure, particularly structurally deficient bridges. Perhaps surprisingly, many people I spoke with were willing to support a five- or even ten-cent gas tax increase to support this effort if necessary. Unfortunately in Harrisburg, there was never an opportunity to vote on a bill that came close to this ideal.
While I share the goal of addressing our state’s and region’s infrastructure needs, I voted “no” on the transportation bill because the majority of constituents – both individuals and businesses – with whom I spoke, or who contacted me, believed that the increase in taxes and fees was simply too high. In addition, aside from a minimal adjustment in the law requiring municipalities to pay “prevailing wage” on local road projects, there was very little in this bill in the way of increased efficiency or savings to the taxpayer.
I want to make sure that the totality of this tax hike is fully explained - it represents a significant tax increase of approximately 28 cents per gallon of gasoline and 41 cents per gallon of diesel over five years. Some have said that this will give Pennsylvania the highest gas tax in the nation.
It also tacks on increases in fees for vehicle registrations, titles, license plates, and even a provision that allows counties to charge an additional vehicle registration fee on top of what the state already charges.
It represents billions of dollars a year in new spending—hundreds of millions of which would go to SEPTA—that will fall squarely on the backs of the same people working two jobs to pay the bills and trying to make ends meet in an economy that is still struggling. While I believe SEPTA is important to the overall transportation efficiency of Southeastern Pennsylvania, I am frustrated by an approach that asks motorists to pay more for mass transit, while the individuals actually using mass transit are not asked to contribute more.
I strongly believe that we can do more to improve efficiency and cut waste at every agency which will receive funding from this recently passed legislation, be it PennDOT, SEPTA, the Pennsylvania Turnpike or others. I will continue to push for reforms that help meet this goal so that we can wring more from every dollar spent and do more for the people of Pennsylvania.
I will also continue to be a strong advocate for needed transportation and infrastructure projects here in Chester County to ensure the safety of our roads and bridges.
As always, I will continue to do everything possible to represent the interests of our area in the best way that I know how. Thank you for your feedback on this important legislation, and thank you for the opportunity to serve in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
State Representative John Lawrence represents the 13th legislative district in Southern Chester County.