Some Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers propose using money from the expected privatization of the state’s liquor stores to rebuild roads and bridges.
The measure, called the Infrastructure Future Fund Act and sponsored by Rep. Jerry Knowles, R-Rush Township, veers from that of fellow Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who wants to earmark the anticipated $800 million for educational programs. Knowles’ bill would fund infrastructure repair over four years.
“How can you begin to think about raising taxes or raising fees when you’re going to have a billion dollars laid at your doorstep and a genuine need that needs to be addressed? It seems like a no-brainer to me,” Knowles said at a press conference in Harrisburg on Monday.
According to Knowles, spending the money on education or pension liability would be counterproductive. “We would need recurring dollars if the money was spent on education. If the money is used to address our state’s public pension crisis, it would essentially be just a drop in the bucket and isn’t nearly enough to address the problem,” he said.
Democrats, meanwhile, oppose the privatization, which passed the House by a 105 to 90 vote three weeks ago, after seven hours of debate, and is pending the Senate.
“Instead of privatizing, we should be modernizing the wine and spirits system,” said Sen. Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills.
Corbett also wants to privatize the $3.5 billion Pennsylvania Lottery. Attorney General Kathleen Kane has challenged Corbett’s 20-year contract with Camelot Global Services LLC, which runs Britain’s national lottery.
Pennsylvania, with more than 120,000 miles of roads and bridges, is the fifth-largest state maintained road system in the United States. The Pennsylvania Transportation Advisory Committee reported three years ago that nearly 5,000 bridges statewide are structurally deficient statewide and more than 7,000 miles of road are in poor condition.
Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, which scheduled a $175 million bond sale for this week, is under fire. Kane last month announced criminal charges against former state Sen. Robert Mellow, five former Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission officials and employees including former Turnpike chief executive Joseph Brimmeier, and two businessmen with multimillion dollar contracts with the Turnpike, accusing them of using pay-to-play schemes for financial and political gain.
The allegations included improper steering of bond underwriting business to PNC Capital Markets.
Moody’s Investors Service last week lowered the underlying ratings on the commission’s senior lien revenue bonds to A1 from Aa3, affecting $3.1 billion in outstanding debt. Moody’s cited excessive borrowing and less-than-expected toll revenue.
On Wednesday, Rep. Donna Oberlander, R-Clarion, is expected to announce legislation that would abolish the commission and merge its functions into the state Department of Transportation.