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Transit boost in Shapiro’s budget benefits both cities and rural counties, PennDOT secretary says

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Peter Hall, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
March 4, 2024

The $283 million boost in transit funding proposed in Gov. Josh Shapiro’s budget would benefit every county in Pennsylvania, Transportation Secretary Mike Carroll told state House lawmakers Monday.

“Every single one has transit. Every one, from the largest to the smallest,” Carroll said in a House Appropriations Committee hearing on the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s budget request.

Transit funding is an issue that has historically pitted Pennsylvania’s rural counties against its two large cities, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and their respective transit agencies, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) and Pittsburgh Regional Transit.

Shapiro’s proposal to transfer an additional 1.75% of the state’s sales tax revenue to the Pennsylvania Transportation Trust Fund is also an opportunity for smaller transit agencies such as the Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority in the Lehigh Valley and ride-share programs serving rural communities. 

LANTA, for example, would receive an additional $6 million, bringing its state subsidy to $18.3 million.

State Rep. James Struzi (R-Indiana) questioned the size of the proposed investment. 

“That’s essentially taking a portion of the sales and use tax that all Pennsylvanians pay and putting it towards public transportation,” Struzi said, noting that well over half — $162 million — would go to SEPTA. “Why is such a large amount needed to go towards SEPTA?”

Beyond the size and complexity of SEPTA’s bus, trolley, metro and regional rail system, Carroll said SEPTA is facing the same challenges as every other major city transit authority.

“The decline of ridership as a result of the COVID disaster was meaningful,” Carroll said. “The change in work patterns with folks working remotely in hybrid schedules resulted in a changing pattern and usage of transit. And to ignore that reality would be to ignore math.”

SEPTA’s daily ridership in August was about 563,000 or about 64% of its ridership in August 2019, according to SEPTA.

Carroll said SEPTA is a vital part of the economy of southeast Pennsylvania, which is critically important to the state as a whole. 

Rep. Toren Ecker (R-Ecker) noted that revenue from Pennsylvania’s gasoline tax has started to decline as cars become more efficient and more electric vehicles are used. He asked about Shapiro’s plan to fund road and bridge maintenance as that revenue decline continues. 

Last year’s state budget began the process of transitioning funding for the Pennsylvania State Police away from gasoline tax, Carroll said, making more of the revenue available for highway maintenance. 

Gasoline tax paid for $500 million of the state police budget last fiscal year, down from more than $800 million in the 2016-17 budget, according to budget data compiled by the Pennsylvania Highway Information Association. The current budget reduced the amount of gasoline tax going to the state police to $375 million.

State lawmakers have tried for several years to advance legislation that would impose a road use fee for electric vehicles; none has reached the governor’s desk, Carroll noted. The state, meanwhile, is moving forward with a plan to build out a network of electric vehicle charging infrastructure funded through the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Act.

“So the time has come I think to have a conversation that speaks to electric vehicles and reconciling the need to have them put money into the motor license fund while also making sure that we have an incentive program that allows for the continued proliferation of electric vehicles and hybrid electric,” Carroll said.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.