Pennsylvania congressional delegation deadlocks on transportation bill |

Pennsylvania congressional delegation deadlocks on transportation bill

Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
Rep. Mike Doyle of Swissvale, the representative for Pennsylvania's 14th congressional district, talks about his political career while visiting the PittsburghTribune-Review office Friday, Dec. 2, 2015.
Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
Rep. Mike Doyle of Swissvale, the representative for Pennsylvania's 14th congressional district, talks about his political career while visiting the PittsburghTribune-Review office Friday, Dec. 2, 2015.

Members of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation agree that passing a bill to pay for the country’s aging roads and bridges should be a top priority this year, but members disagree on its funding.

Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, the most senior of Pennsylvania’s federal lawmakers, said Friday that he supports a user fee to replenish the highway trust fund, which neared insolvency last year until lawmakers passed short-term funding that expires in May.

“I really wish that we could just face up to the reality that if something’s worth doing, it’s worth paying for. The idea that we try to find ways like closing the post office on Saturdays or (rely on) offshore oil revenues to fund the transportation bill strikes me as not the way to go,” Doyle said. “I really think it should be a user fee. You don’t let the infrastructure of your country crumble and say, ‘We’re not going to fix it because nobody wants to pay for it.’ Why not make the people who use the highway pay for the highway bill?”

Doyle pointed to raising the 18.4-cent-per-gallon federal gasoline tax, which has not increased since 1993, or tolling some interstates such as Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania. The highway fund dwindled as vehicles became more fuel-efficient and infrastructure repair costs increased.

“I think when you explain where the money goes, people understand,” Doyle said.

His comments were made less than a week after Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Hollidaysburg, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, ruled out a gasoline tax increase or other motorist user fees. Shuster’s spokesman said his boss was unavailable for comment Friday but pointed to earlier comments.

“The president has ruled out a gas tax (increase); I don’t think there’s a will in Congress, and the American people don’t want it,” Shuster said. He added that a vehicle-miles-traveled tax was “never really on the table,” pointing in part to lawmaker hesitancy over technical challenges of the government’s tracking motorists’ mileage.

Shuster said a long-term highway bill may be paid by repatriating offshore corporate taxes or from oil exploration and production offshore and on federal lands — proposals that supporters of a gasoline tax hike contend are not long-term answers.

Congress has been in a deadlock since 2009 over the best way to pay for highways, opting to pass a series of short-term fixes.

“There’s no question there has to be a federal funding stream. We think the fairest way is a fuel tax. That way everyone who drives and uses it pays,” said Jim Runk, president of the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association. “We’re opposed to tolling. You have to set up toll collectors and an administration to handle that, meaning less money into roads and bridges.”

Fellow Pennsylvania Republican Reps. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, and Mike Kelly, R-Butler, support the offshore drilling route. Murphy’s chief of staff, Susan Mosychuk, said Murphy introduced a bill to do that and that a gas tax increase is not necessary.

“Murphy’s bill expedites production of offshore energy resources and dedicates new royalty revenues on infrastructure repairs as well as paying down the nation’s debt,” Mosychuk said.

Tom Qualtere, Kelly’s spokesman, echoed that, saying, “Kelly has been supportive of encouraging and developing our resources on federal lands and on the Outer Continental shelf and believes that we should use the royalties, etc., for our general transportation fund.”

The state Legislature passed a transportation funding bill that took effect in 2014. Act 89 raises the wholesale gasoline tax over five years and other vehicle-related fees. PennDOT officials said the state gets about $1.5 billion annually of federal funds.

“Act 89 has given us the resources to weather short-term impasses. We need Washington to reach a solution on transportation, so the benefits of Act 89 are not undercut over the longer term,” PennDOT spokeswoman Erin Waters-Trasatt said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or [email protected].

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.