By Tom Barnes
HARRISBURG -- Few legislators doubt that more funding should be found to improve state roads, bridges and public transit, but it isn’t known if the House Appropriations Committee will vote on a new transportation funding bill when it meets Monday .
Rep. Dwight Evans, D-Philadelphia, the Appropriations chairman, introduced a bill this week that would generate an additional $1.3 billion a year for transportation, but many legislators, even from his own party, are hesitant to vote on it before they face voters Nov. 2.
The bill has three major fund-raisers: imposing a new 8 percent tax on the gross profits of oil companies (but letting them avoid the current corporate net income tax in return); making a 6.5 cent per gallon increase in the oil company franchise tax; and raising some fees, such as for drivers licenses and vehicle registrations.
The first two items could cause an increase in the cost of gasoline at the pump of 8 to 10 cents per gallon. That would clearly upset motorists -- most of them also voters -- and is a major reason why some legislators don’t want to vote on the Evans plan.
Gov. Ed Rendell has also proposed an 8 percent tax on oil company profits, and wants to include a provision that would prohibit oil companies from passing the tax along to motorists. But some critics don’t think such a prohibition would stand up in court.
Revenue-raising bills must start in the House, and even if the Evans bill were to pass there, it would have to go to the Senate, which is led by Republicans, who have said they aren’t likely to take it up before the election.
And senators don’t plan to return for any "lame duck’’ session between Nov. 2 and Nov. 30, which is when the current 2009-10 session ends. So the chances of enacting the higher transportation funds seem unlikely this year.