Pennsylvania Spends, Gets Bad Roads

Pennsylvania Spends, Gets Bad Roads

By Leo Knepper

Lowman Henry, last week, discussed the slow-motion fiscal train wreck that the Pennsylvania Turnpike faces. At the end of August, we noted that Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale was pushing back against his colleagues who were trying to enact a new tax on County drivers. In both instances, readers noted that it was only natural for Pennsylvania to spend so much on road work due to the volume of roadways the state maintained.

It is reasonable to argue that there is a direct relationship between the miles of road and the funds required to maintain those same roads. However, that argument ignores the issue of whether or not the money is spent efficiently. In the case of the Turnpike, some of the funds it sends to PennDOT are used to subsidize mass transit, which are some of the most inefficiently operated systems in the state. Furthermore, people should pay for the services they use. If someone uses mass transit, the ticket price should cover the cost. Likewise, tolls from the Turnpike should fund the Turnpike.

Returning to the original issue of whether or not the taxes being collected to spend on roadwork are being spent efficiently by PennDOT, one way to determine the answer to this question is to look at spending on a per mile basis. According to the Reason Foundation’s Annual Highway Report, Pennsylvania spends more per mile than 27 other states, $160,477. Regarding overall efficiency, the Report calculated that Pennsylvania’s overall rank was 39th when road conditions and other measures were taken into account.

Taxpayers and drivers shouldn’t expect an improvement in Pennsylvania’s standing next year. The Report relied on 2013 data, meaning it was before the gas tax increase enacted by Governor Corbett. As we noted in 2013, the General Assembly’s failure to reform how transportation dollars were spent would result in even more waste. We fully expect that prediction to be born out in the future.

Mr. Knepper is executive director of Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania Spends, Gets Bad Roads

Pennsylvania Spends, Gets Bad Roads

Uber Banned Again Now That Dems Are Gone

Uber Banned Again Now That Dems Are Gone — An agreement reached, July 7, between the Philadelphia Parking Authority, which oversees limos and taxis in the city, and transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft, ends tomorrow, Sept. 30, once again making the popular services illegal in the city.

Note that they will only be illegal in Philly. Everywhere else in the state they are fine.

The agreement was made to facilitate transportation matters during the Democratic National Convention, July 25-28.

And this leads one to the obvious question: If it made things better then why won’t it make things better after tomorrow?

Uber Banned Again Now That Dems Are GoneThe answer one fears is that it doesn’t make things better for the small-time cronies who rule Philadelphia but these small-time cronies had to defer to the big-time cronies back in July.

The Democratic Party is a criminal organization. The world would be better if it died.

 Uber Banned Again Now That Dems Are Gone

PennDOT Killing Pennsylvania Turnpike

PennDOT Killing Pennsylvania Turnpike

By Lowman S. Henry

The Pennsylvania Turnpike is America’s first superhighway. It also has become one of the most expensive roads in the country to travel. If you are in a passenger car driving the entire length of the turnpike from the Delaware River Bridge in the east to Gateway in the west it will cost you $42.30 if you pay cash, $30.32 if you have an E-Z Pass.PennDOT Killing Pennsylvania Turnpike

Traversing the Pennsylvania Turnpike gets more expensive for truck traffic, significantly more expensive. That same east-west trip for the heaviest and largest of trucks costs $1,634.35. As if that isn’t bad enough, recent annual fare hikes are projected to continue into the foreseeable future.

Pennsylvania is known as the Keystone state and for good reason. Geographically we are centrally located for both north-south and east-west traffic destined for some of the nation’s most populous cities. For decades the turnpike has been a key traffic route, but now both freight haulers and passenger cars are seeking out other routes – such as Interstate 81 that, while a bit out of the way for some, charge no tolls.

These facts have not escaped the attention of state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale who recently sounded alarm bells over the turnpike’s fragile fiscal situation. In his audit of turnpike practices DePasquale said: “The plan for the turnpike’s financial future relies on projection calling for a 215 percent increase in toll revenue between 2015 and 2035 and a 44 percent increase in traffic volume through 2044. However, traffic volume has remained relatively flat over the last decade.”

These two projections are inherently contradictory as basic economics dictates that consumers use less of a product as prices rise – especially if prices rise at a much faster rate than the income of the purchaser. Thus, we can expect the past decade’s “relatively flat” traffic volumes to either remain so, or perhaps even decline as such significant toll hikes continue to be implemented.

It would be easy to blame mismanagement and the turnpike commissions’ often criticized hiring and contracting practices for these annual rate hikes. But, in this case the problem has been caused by the state legislature, not by turnpike administration. Act 44 of 2007 requires the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to make payments of $450 million per year to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT). PennDOT which spends the money on highway maintenance and on subsidizing mass transit operations. Since the passage of Act 44, $5.2 billion in fare revenue has been diverted from turnpike operations to PennDOT.

Act 44 was passed with the unrealistic expectation that Interstate 80 would be converted to a toll road operated by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. That revenue would offset the mandated subsidy to PennDOT. State officials appealed to both the Bush and Obama administrations for approval of the scheme, but were rejected. As a result the turnpike has been saddled with making annual payments to PennDOT and no source to fund those transfers except annual fare hikes.

The legislative mandate is also having another impact: the turnpike is reducing planned spending on maintenance, improvements and expansion.

An ambitious rebuilding plan that includes expansion of the turnpike to six lanes in many areas has already been reduced by $1 billion over the next ten years. DePasquale pointed out the folly of the situation stating: “You can’t cut back on construction and increase traffic 44 percent, especially while jacking up the toll rates.”

The subsidies to PennDOT are scheduled to end in 2022, but by then the turnpike’s financial situation will dire. Worse, legislators will then have to determine how to fund the insatiable appetite for subsidies required by the state’s money-losing mass transit systems.

This problem should have been addressed two years ago when the legislature passed and Governor Tom Corbett signed into law a defacto 30-cent per gallon increase in gasoline taxes. That would have been the time to end “haphazard funding gimmicks” such as Act 44 and placed both the Pennsylvania Turnpike and PennDOT on solid financial footing.

It didn’t happen then. But it needs to happen now before, as Auditor General DePasquale concluded, the system collapses “and leaves the turnpike and people who rely on public transit systems across the state in a world of hurt.”

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

PennDOT Killing Pennsylvania Turnpike

Turnpike Tolls Rise, Happy New Year

Happy New Year. Pennsylvania Turnpike tolls are going to rise 5 percent for all customers on Sunday, Jan. 4.

Obviously one needs money to maintain a transportation infrastructure.

Just as obviously a lot of the money — maybe even most — collected by the federal government and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the guise of doing such is not.

High salaries for bureaucrats and inflated costs for construction should not be considered  part of maintaining an infrastructure.

They should be considered corruption. Our lives would be richer and freer with less corruption.

End things like prevailing wage, which inflate the cost of public construction by about 20 percent.

Kill the scandal-ridden Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and move its responsibilities to the slightly less scandal-ridden PennDOT.

For that matter, kill the turnpike system altogether. Make the roads freeways. Traffic bottlenecks are removed, salaries for toll-collectors disappear as does the cost of maintaining toll booths or EZ Pass lanes, and we no longer have to worry about how the revenue is going to be collected when adding ingresses and egresses. This means more ingresses and, especially, egresses which means much greater transportation efficiency.

Hat tip, Bob Guzzardi.

Turnpike Tolls Rise, Happy New Year

Turnpike Tolls Rise, Happy New Year

E-Z Pass Eyes Speeders

Something of which some may be unaware is that E-Z Pass keeps track of toll lane speeds.

This has been confirmed as occurring in five of the 15 states that use E-Z Pass, reports USA Today. The quintet of nannies is  Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York,  Maryland and Rhode Island.

The toll lane speed limit is generally a 30 mph limit.

Those caught speeding multiple times have their accounts suspended.

As of now only those caught chronically speeding in their own states are subject to suspension as the system, while it can can credit the transponders of out-of-state drivers, does not allow access to other information about them.

We always suspected Big Brother could be spelled E-Z Pass. Our preference is to simply end all attempts to charge for using highways. Let the gas tax suffice for maintaining the infrastructure of which there would be less to maintain if there were no toll booths. The would also mean more entrances and, especially, exits hence more a more efficient traffic system.

E-Z Pass Eyes Speeders

E-Z Pass Eyes Speeders

Military License Plates In Pennsylvania

PennDOT is issuing a new series of military-themed license plates to honor service members and veterans, reports State Rep. Jim Cox (R-129).

These  plates allow recognition of combat-related decorations and expand the criteria to qualify for the Merchant Marines plate. T

he license plates were authorized by Act 109 of 2014.

There are  34 varieties . For a full list, click here. The fees vary.

PennDOT is also now issuing a plate to commemorate the sacrifices of Pennsylvania’s Civil War veterans with the new Pennsylvania Monument plate. The revenue collected from this plate is designated to assist with preserving monuments at the Gettysburg National Military Park.

The fee for the plate is $54 with $23 of the proceeds to be used to provide grants to nonprofit organizations for cleaning, repairing and restoring monuments in the Gettysburg National Military Park.

Military License Plates

Military License Plates In Pennsylvania

Mitchell Rubin Gets Probation, Fine

Former Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission Chairman Mitchell Rubin pleaded guilty,  today, Nov. 13, to commercial bribery before Dauphin County Judge Richard Lewis.

Nine charges will be dismissed in his plea deal.

He will get a sentence of 24 months probation, with 100 hours of community service, and a $2,500 fine.

The charges were brought last year after an investigation by the state Attorney General and state police.

Rubin was appointed to the commission in 1998 and elected chairman in 2003.

He was closely associated with State Senate powerbroker Vincent Fumo, a Philadelphia Democrat who was convicted of defrauding the state and a nonprofit in 2009.

Rubin was charged in 2010 by federal investigators for obstruction of justice relating to the Fumo investigation.

Mitchell Rubin Gets Probation, Fine

Mitchell Rubin Gets Probation, Fine

PennDOT Survey Seeks Feedback

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is requesting public comment for improving customer services through an online survey, reports State Rep. Jim Cox (R-129).

The survey is designed to collect public feedback on safety, education and mobility needs to help guide future mobile service development.

The brief survey asks participants to prioritize safety and mobility needs related to PennDOT areas, such as public transit and driver and vehicle services, says Cox. Participants will also share feedback on educational opportunities for interacting with the department.

Residents of Pennsylvania can take the survey here.

PennDOT Survey Seeks Feedback

PennDOT Survey Seeks Feedback

PennDOT Seeks Temp Help

PennDOT is seeking temporary employees for its 2014  winter maintenance program, reports State Rep. Jim Cox (R-129).

The majority of available positions are transportation equipment operators, a position which requires a commercial driver’s license.

Additional temporary positions include mechanics, trades helpers, welders, clerks, typists, semi-skilled laborers, stock clerks and custodial workers. The program runs from September through April.

For  information on eligibility requirements and to apply online, visit RepJimCox.com and click on “PennDOT Winter Maintenance Program.” The deadline to apply is the close of business on Tuesday, Aug. 8.
PennDOT Seeks Temp Help

PennDOT Seeks Temp Help

Prosperous Pennsylvania Blueprint

Commonwealth Foundation has created a well-thought plan to save the state. Call it a Prosperous Pennsylvania Blueprint.  Below is the executive summary.  The complete report in the form of a pdf can be found here. For the record,  BillLawrenceOnline   most vehemently opposes  leasing the Turnpike, which is a public resource. Our suggestion is to make it a freeway eliminating traffic snarls and allowing for far more entrances and, especially, egresses to be built . This would increase its utility and improve traffic flow in Pennsylvania  far less expensively than building new roads.

It should further be noted that  expensive I-76 makes the Port of Philadelphia less competitive with New York/New Jersey — no tolls on I-80 after all — and tolls are a rather inefficient way of collecting revenue due to the cost of infrastructure and personnel.

And E-ZPass, frankly has too much of a hint of Big Brother for us.

Freedom is good.

By Elizabeth Stelle, Bob Dick, Jessica Barnett

Over the past six fiscal years, the commonwealth has spent more than it has taken in.  This fiscal gap is projected to widen as expenditures are on pace to grow faster than future revenue. Such a structural deficit poses a threat to the very foundations of economic growth and job creation that lead to prosperity for Pennsylvania’s taxpayers.

From 1970 to 2014, state government spending rose from $4 billion to nearly $67 billion—the highest in state history. Adjusting for inflation, that’s an increase of $3,163 per resident.

This decades-long pattern has placed an undue burden on the backs of state taxpayers.  Pennsylvania has the 10th highest state and local tax burden in the nation.  Meanwhile, state and local government debt has grown to a combined $125 billion—nearly $10,000 per resident.

High spending, taxes, and debt hinders Pennsylvania families’ opportunities for prosperity.  The commonwealth is near the bottom in most state rankings of economic climate and has lagged the rest of the nation in job and income growth for decades.

Unfortunately, the prospects for improvement are overshadowed by the challenges lawmakers face in balancing our state budget.

Recent budgets relied heavily on temporary federal stimulus dollars and one-time revenue sources, creating an imbalance between spending and revenue that has not yet been resolved. Spending on Public Welfare—the largest department in the commonwealth’s budget—continues to grow faster than taxpayers’ income.  Debt payments and prison costs continue to eat a large share of the state budget.

The most pressing threat to our fiscal house is a looming public pension crisis.  With $47 billion (and growing) in unfunded pension liabilities between the two statewide plans for public employees, state pension contributions will skyrocket by 143% in the next five years.

This report outlines reforms to help build a foundation for lasting prosperity.  Our analysis focuses on three categories of reform.

First we address short-term fiscal reforms to deal with challenges facing our state budget.  We also identify long-term reforms to bring spending in line with inflation while reducing the size of government and the burden on taxpayers.  Finally, we discuss policy reforms aimed at economic growth.

These recommendations include:

–Cut corporate welfare spending—including Redevelopment Assistance Capital Spending, the Commonwealth Financing Authority, and the Horse Race Development Fund—and targeted tax incentives in favor of tax relief for all.

–Utilize part of the legislative reserve fund.

–Reduce reliance on driver charges and general tax revenue to fund mass transit, and shift to greater user fees.

–Allow school districts to use fund reserves to invest in pension funds and receive a credit for their future pension costs.

–Privatize and utilize competitively-bid management contracts for “yellow-pages” government, including state liquor stores, the Pennsylvania Lottery and the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

–Enact comprehensive welfare reform to slow the rate of spending growth while also reducing poverty.

–Enact long-term care reform to encourage private long-term care insurance and reduce reliance on government programs.

–Increase school choice programs to provide families with greater educational opportunities at a lower cost per student.

–Limit future increases in government spending to inflation plus population growth.

–Lower the overall tax burden, rather than relying on economic development programs, to encourage economic growth.

–Enact a Right-to-Work law to make Pennsylvania more competitive with other states in attracting business investment.

Combined, these reforms detail a blueprint for a stable fiscal house that will provide opportunities for prosperity for all Pennsylvania families.

 

Pennsylvania Toll Booth Prosperous Pennsylvania Blueprint

Prosperous Pennsylvania Blueprint has mostly great ideas but the Turnpike belongs to the people. Get rid of the toll booths.