Freeze state gas tax, or dedicate it

Scranton Times-Tribune/AP

Pennsylvania lawmakers have a remarkable talent for evading accountability.

■ They won’t increase the state government’s percentage of school funding because that would require increases in state taxes. Instead, they leave it to local school boards to raise property taxes and absorb the political blowback.

■ They incessantly have expanded gambling without regard for the social dysfunction it produces, thus increasing revenue from taxes that are embedded in the bets, untraceable to the lawmakers.

■ They have increased their own pay to a base rate of more than $100,000 a year without a vote, through automatic annual increases tied to an inflation index. This year, the increase was 7.8%.

■ They passed off part of their responsibility to fund highways by requiring the Turnpike Commission to borrow more than $13 billion for PennDOT since 2007, which shows up as annual toll increases rather than tax increases. Turnpike tolls will increase by 5% Jan. 1.

A customer pumps gas at an Exxon gas station, Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Miami. U.S consumers have so far defied higher prices for gas, food, and rent and have been spending more in 2022, providing crucial support to the economy. How long that can continue will be one of the key factors affecting the economy and inflation this year. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

Those are just a few examples. Drivers will experience another one in January when an indirect state gasoline tax is scheduled to increase by 3.5 cents a gallon, to 61.1 cents.

Lawmakers voted in 2013 to increase the tax automatically when the wholesale price exceeds $2.99 per gallon. The state Department of Revenue determined that average price statewide was $3.17 per gallon between September 2021 and September 2022, triggering the impending automatic increase.

Gasoline tax increases should flow from specific legislative action based on need, rather than from lawmakers punting to evade accountability for them.

Republican Rep. Joe D’Orsie of Bradford County plans to introduce a bill to freeze the gasoline tax at the current 57.6 cents a gallon, which would give the legislators a perverse opportunity to take credit for reducing a tax that they clandestinely raised.

Meanwhile, PennDOT could use the money, especially since lawmakers had outlawed the agency’s plans to establish tolls on nine bridges to pay for their replacements. Or, the new revenue could be used to diminish the size of the annual turnpike toll increases, or to help pay for public transit.

Lawmakers should freeze the tax or dedicate the revenue for transportation projects.

— From the Scranton Times-Tribune/AP.