By Eric Boehm | PA Independent
HARRISBURG — It is, by now, a familiar refrain in the halls of the state Capitol.
Lawmakers are waiting for direction and political cover from Gov. Tom Corbett before moving ahead with a comprehensive plan to address Pennsylvania’s transportation infrastructure problems — a move that could include higher taxes or fees.
Efforts to increase funding for Pennsylvania’s roads and bridges are stuck in a governmental traffic jam in Harrisburg.
State senators from both sides of the aisle said this week that they had transportation near the top of their list of priorities for the abbreviated fall session that convenes Sept. 24, with a goal of approving a transportation funding package early in 2013.
Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, said any package to deal with highways and bridges also should look at how the state funds mass transit and railroad infrastructure being tested by the expansion of natural gas drilling.
But Corbett is still stuck in neutral.
Steve Chizmar, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said this week that the governor has no timeline for moving on transportation issues.
“The administration continues to look for a solution that is going to be the best choice for all of Pennsylvania,” he said.
During the summer of 2011, a Corbett-appointed panel of transportation experts from the public and private sectors made several funding recommendations, which the governor has so far left on the shelf.
State Sen. Jake Corman, R-Centre, and state Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, introduced bills that mirrored the commission’s recommendations, but neither has moved.
Corbett has said he is reluctant to do anything that will take money out of the pockets of Pennsylvania residents at a time when the state’s economy is still recovering.
Senate President Joseph Scarnati, R-Jefferson, said Wednesday that the money has to come from somewhere.
“The straight talk is it is going to cost more money somewhere,” he said. “But it is going to cost more money, if you have to detour around bridges too. It’s going to cost more money ,if you’re going to ruin tires on roads.”
In the Senate, Transportation Committee Chairman John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, said nothing will be done unless the governor and PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch make the rounds with lawmakers.
He said transportation packages are unique, because members always want to know what projects will be completed in their districts before they are willing to put up a vote.
At least one step toward a comprehensive transportation plan was taken earlier this year when the General Assembly passed — and Corbett signed — a bill authorizing PennDOT to undertake public-private partnerships for transportation infrastructure projects.
The so-called “P3 bill” would allow state government to lease roads to private firms for a set period of time, in exchange for building or rebuilding the road with private dollars. Geist was defeated in May’s legislative primary election and will not be a part of the Legislature next year.