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Friday, August 03, 2007

Scarnati "Sets Record Straight"?

Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati defends tolling I-80, claiming he is "setting the record straight". He leads off saying, "One issue that is not debatable in Pennsylvania is the fact that our transportation needs have been vastly under funded."

Actually that is highly debatable--spending on transportation has increased dramatically. Over the past ten years, funding for state highway and bridge maintenance increased 86%, and funding for state highway and bridge construction and reconstruction increased 125%. The reason that there is a "crisis" is how the money is spent - including earmarks and mismanaged funds. Sen. Scarnati did not mention that the plan to toll I-80, increase Turnpike tolls, and bond for billions of dollars does not address any reforms in spending.

Here are facts Scarnati forget to mention in "setting the record straight":

  • Half of the money generated from tolling I-80 will go to mass transit in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia (Scarnati only focuses on spending on roads and bridges).
  • A majority of Scarnati's colleagues, the PA Senate Republicans, voted against tolling I-80

  • A Turnpike lease would have generated twice as much revenue for roads and bridges.

  • Mike Long, who is a lobbyist for the Turnpike Commission, fought against a Turnpike Lease. Sen. Scarnati put Mike Long on the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, which controls campaign contributions for Senate Republicans.
Check out Rep. Peterson's Comments in Brett Lieberman's blog:

"The Turnpike Commission has the least respect of any agency in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and we're going to make it the biggest and most powerful agency. That's not smart," said Peterson.

But wait, it gets better. He may actually be onto something.

"Here we have the least trusted transportation agency ever in the commonwealth. They devise a plan to double their size, double their influence, double their money. Why did that go anywhere? Why would the legislature even look at that? Nobody trusts the Turnpike Commission."

Read more on the Scarnati-English-Peterson debate from the AP.


Anonymous said...

If the information presented in this Policy Blog is factual, then Sen. Scarnati is clearly in the camp of the Political Class Establishment.

What a disappointment and a disgrace.


Straight Shooter said...

If the information in this Scarnati Policy Blog is factual, then Scarnati has joined the Political Class Establishment.

What a disappoitment and what a disgrace.


Anonymous said...

I'm not saying that I agree with tolling I80, but your facts are a little off. Federal law enacted after the Turnpike was created 70 years ago, says that toll money you collect from a highway must go directly to the maintenence/improvement of that highway. The tolls from I80 will go directly to the maintence of I80. Allowing over $100 million from the Penn DOT budget to go to other projects. The money for mass transit will come from an alcohol tax in Allegheny County and bonds issued by the Turnpike Commission, Those bonds will then be paid for by future earnings.

I think the infrastructure problem was put into a much larger perspective with the collapse of the Minneapolis bridge. You are correct that funding has increased and it is sloppily used in PA. Yet, there is still more funding needed. Costs of construction and maintence has increased almost 30 percent each year for the last three years. Much of that coming from a rise in raw material prices, in which India and China are demanding more than ever. It also comes from a backwards prevailing wage law that will never be repeealed.

The State should stop bankrolling the building of multimillion dollar stadiums, convention centers, and international headquarters for companies that can afford to build the buildings themselves. They should also stop giving grant money to programs that have been shown to be sub-standard performers. Overall a lot needs to occur to fix our roads and bridges. The question is will it take a major bridge collapse in Philly or Pittsburgh for lawmakers to finally wake up. I hope not.

Nathan Benefield said...

Anonymous (comment #3) - our facts are not wrong. The Allegheny County liquor tax will be used only for the local share of transit. But I-80 tolls, increased Turnpike Tolls, and new bonds (in the first 10 years of the plan) are intended for increased state funding - about 40% of which goes to mass transit and 60% for other (not the Turnpike or I-80) roads and bridges.

I-80 tolls will be used not only for tolling fo I-80, but is intended to generate a "surplus" of $300 (growing to $1 billion annually). This money will be used for paying back the bonds, mass transit and other roads and bridges.

The "savings" from I-80 are also part of that plan. But those savings assume the federal government will continue to fund I-80 with over $100 million per year, even after it is being tolled. This assumption seemed highly unlikely even before Reps. Peterson and English came out against the plan.

You are right that something needs to be done, but even as Governor Rendell pointed out on CNBC, that something needs to be engaging the private sector, not relying on the innefficient agencies that gave us the transportation "crisis".