US Reps, Senator suggest own solutions

Hiking fed gas levy, long-term transportation budget, taxing frackers among ideas

By:  Andrew M. Seder

While much attention is being paid in Harrisburg to state transportation funding, those representing Northeastern Pennsylvania in Washington have some ideas of their own.

U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Moosic, said the federal gas tax has been set at 18.3 cents since 1993, and he believes the time has come to raise it. Factoring in inflation, the tax should be at 28 cents, though he said he wasn’t committing to raising it that much right away. But an increase is warranted with the state of the Federal Highway Trust Fund, the budget account that receives the gas tax and is used to fix roads and bridges.

Cartwright noted that since 1993 better fuel efficiency standards have meant fewer fill ups and therefore less gas tax being paid. He said the environmentalist side of him is happy about that, but the side that has to drive those roads and knows the state of the funding is not.

The last time the gas tax went up, U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Hazleton, said government promised better roads would follow, but less than half of that money is used for maintenance.

“A little more than 30 percent goes to roads and bridges,” Barletta said of the tax’s infrastructure allotment. “If there’s talk of raising the gas tax on a federal level, we need to keep the promise to the American people.”

An odometer tax has been discussed, though he said unless it was done as a progressive tax so the rich pay more than the poor, he couldn’t support it. Though it’s not in the federal purview, he said he believes the time has come for Pennsylvania to implement a natural gas extraction tax that most other states where hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is taking place levy.

“These frackers were expecting to spend 6 or 7 percent … they budgeted that,” Cartwright said, noting the state is losing out in millions annually by not taxing the gas that comes out of the ground in Pennsylvania, much of it across the northern tier in Bradford, Wyoming, Susquehanna and Tioga counties.

“A reasonable tax in fracking extraction is warranted, and not just for highways, but for education, too,” Cartwright said.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, on Monday said he was “urging Congress to begin crafting a long-term transportation authorization bill that will address these crucial needs and provide certainty for planning and am also working on providing financing options to help fix bridges now.”

Casey noted a nationwide infrastructure initiative would not just benefit the aging infrastructure.

“By making appropriate investments in infrastructure, Congress can spur economic growth, create jobs and help states, counties and municipalities upgrade aging roads and bridges,” he said.