Gov. Corbett signs transportation bill, tours state
Gov. Tom Corbett crisscrossed the state on Monday, celebrating the signing of a $2.3 billion transportation law as critics in his own party called the law a tax increase and vowed to make it a campaign issue.
Corbett appeared under the Liberty Bridge, Downtown, flanked by Democrats and fellow Republicans who supported the hotly debated law that pledges to improve the state’s highways, bridges and mass transit systems funded through higher vehicle-related fees and wholesale gas taxes.
He said voting for the bill was the right thing to do and said there was “not a chance” of repealing it.
Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, a vocal critic of the bill, said he planned to co-sponsor a move to repeal the law next month.
“The governor has violated his taxpayer pledge not to raise taxes when today he signed a $2 billion tax increase,” Metcalfe said. “Most definitely, it will be an issue in the election. I will be talking about this next year.”
The state leads the nation in the number of structurally deficient bridges, and this year, PennDOT slapped weight restrictions on more than 1,000 of them.
“We now will be able to put shovels in the ground and rebuild our transportation system,” Corbett said. “Voting for this bill clearly was not an easy decision. Already we hear some who are attacking this bill with scare language rather than recognizing it for what it is — an investment in the progress of the safety of the citizens and the progress of our economy.”
Political science professor Chris Borick, director of the Institute of Public Opinion at Muhlenberg College, said some of the criticism is a reminder of the divide in the GOP ranks.
“It is a big win for the governor. He needed a signature legislative accomplishment. This is a major issue, and it’s been an ongoing problem in the state. The governor can take a degree of credit to make that happen,” Borick said. “But there are portions of the electorate that are not all that thrilled with the answers put out there. It’s not going over well with Tea Party-affiliated members of his own party.”
Even as conservatives criticized the law, the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce said funding for transportation infrastructure was a “critical factor in attracting and retaining business investment” and congratulated Corbett.
“It’s an awkward spot for him, that’s for sure. The governor had to make a choice because there was a lot of pressure from the mainstream business community who wanted this,” Borick said. “He went with the moderate business element rather than the Tea Party populist movement.”
In addition to uncapping the wholesale tax, the bill raises fines for speeding tickets and increases vehicle-related fees and permits. The base fine for disobeying a traffic control device, such as a red light, will surge early next year to $150 from $25. The fine for purposely evading tolls on the turnpike will be $3,000, and drivers not obeying size and weight restrictions on roads and bridges will be fined $225, up from $150.
One portion of the law allows drivers to choose whether to pay a $500 fine in lieu of a three-month vehicle registration suspension for failure to carry insurance.
The bill funnels $40 million next year to the Commonwealth Financing Authority, a state agency, which critics claim is a form of so-called “walking-around money” for state leaders. Separately, the PennDOT secretary will have authority over $40 million for projects upon consulting with legislative leaders.
Corbett said the appropriations are not walking-around money. His spokesmen said money allocated to the PennDOT secretary provides flexibility to complete key projects.
Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or [email protected].