Pennsylvania's deteriorating transportation infrastructure is finally getting the attention it deserves.
The state Senate last week approved a $2.5 billion bill lawmakers say will increase spending by 50 percent while protecting the safety of motorists, easing congestion and providing an economic boost to the state.
It's now in the hands of the state House transportation committee, and the full chamber could take it up this week.
Good. It's about time.
But our elected officials should be honest about who's going to be paying this bill -- that would be us, at the gasoline pump.
Most of the funding would come from removing the $1.25 cap on the oil company franchise tax over three years. At today's prices, it would add another 28.5 cents per gallon to the bill paid by wholesalers, according to the legislation.
Some lawmakers, including state Sen. Rob Teplitz, a Dauphin County Democrat who also represents part of York County, said they don't expect that move to have a big impact on consumers.
"It's not a direct, penny-for-penny connection between the wholesale tax and prices at the pump," he said.
Not wholesalers like Bob Astor, the fleet manager at Shipley Energy who said his profit margin currently is 0.5 cents to 1.5 cents a gallon.
"If the tax goes up 28 cents a gallon, how will that not affect prices at pump? Of course, it will," he said, adding consumers will solely absorb the increase.
"For the Legislature to think the wholesaler will be able to absorb the 28.5 cent per gallon tax increase is absurd. Where are we going to get the money from? We're going to pass it on to the end user or reseller," Astor said.
That actually makes a lot more sense than lawmakers' vague claims to the contrary.
And it makes lawmakers' attempts to mitigate any pain pale by comparison. The Senate plan includes temporarily lowering the state's 12-cents-per-gallon flat tax paid at the pump to 11 cents per gallon in 2013-14 and 10 cents per gallon in 2014-15.
So we'll likely pay 28.5 cents more per gallon, but in exchange we'll also get a 2-cent break -- temporarily.
So why not just be up front with constituents? That is: We -- our elected officials, technically -- have neglected our roads and bridges for so long now they are a danger. It's going to be expensive to fix and painful. We're all going to feel it.
Maybe it's because lawmakers hope to avoid some unpleasant questions.
For instance, why are we being asked to shoulder this significant burden at the same time the House is proposing $300 million in tax breaks for businesses?
And why don't we fund transportation projects with a reasonable severance tax on big companies drilling for natural gas in the state's Marcellus Shale formation, as every other large gas-producing state collects?
Why did we settle instead for a relatively paltry fee on drillers?
Why does this administration and Legislature always turn first, hand out, to those least able to afford it?
These are reasonable questions.
Any straight answers?