HARRISBURG - The House Transportation Committee approved a plan Thursday to boost transportation funding by about $2 billion a year within five years by increasing the wholesale tax on motor fuels and tapping a grab bag of other new taxes, fees and fines.
The proposal could face more changes before a compromise can be negotiated with the Senate with just three days left in the legislative session.
Supporters said the House proposal would allow the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to expand work on overdue highway and bridge projects while bolstering state funding for mass transportation and setting aside additional money for rail, ports, aviation, bicyclists and pedestrians. It would be the first major increase in transportation funding in 16 years, they said, and would give Pennsylvania one of the nation's highest fuel taxes.
"This is something that has to be done," said Rep. Dick Hess, R-Bedford, the committee chairman.
Some lawmakers have pushed for more money in the bill, while some conservatives have argued for less.
"There's too much at stake to play political games," said Rep. Michael McGeehan, of Philadelphia, the ranking Democrat on the panel, who voted for the proposal.
If the House approves a plan, lawmakers will have to reconcile differences between it and a Senate proposal that would raise $2.5 billion a year by increasing the oil company franchise tax more quickly and increasing fees on vehicle registration, driver's licenses and traffic violations.
Both proposals are more costly than the $1.8 billion plan advanced in February by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who ran on a no-new-taxes pledge in 2010 but was the first to call for removing the cap on the oil company franchise tax.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is spending $5.3 billion this year on highways, bridges and mass transit systems.
Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch, who fielded questions during the committee's discussion leading up to the 16-9 vote, said the governor was pleased by the bipartisan support for both legislative proposals.
"He expects now to see a dialogue between the House and Senate and get this to his desk," Schoch said.
The House proposal relies mainly on phasing in an increase in the wholesale fuel tax over five years. But it also includes other new taxes, including a tripling of the aviation jet fuel tax, increases in levies on tire purchases and leased vehicles, and new authority for municipalities to increase certain local taxes to help finance public transportation.
The House plan also would reduce the annual $450 million transfer to PennDOT that the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is required to make by $200 million a year but continue to require the remaining $250 million for mass transit.