HARRISBURG, Pa., June 18 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/–Pennsylvania's policymakers should not allow the fear of voter backlash to deter them from crafting a lasting solution to the state's transportation funding crisis, according to the results of a recent poll.
A survey of 800 registered voters conducted between May 29 and June 2 by Susquehanna Polling & Research found that nearly two-thirds of voters support increasing state funding for the highway and mass transit systems, and 81 percent believe it's important to solve the transportation funding problem, even if it means increasing taxes or fees or making cuts in other programs.
The poll was commissioned by the Transportation Construction Industries coalition, which in April presented a comprehensive funding solution to the Senate Transportation Committee. TCI is the leading advocate for the highway construction industry in Pennsylvania.
While the poll confirmed that Pennsylvania voters initially do not like the idea of increased fees and taxes, their positions tend to soften significantly when they discover that the specific dollars-and-cents impact on a typical motorist is actually quite small. For example, while the vast majority opposes the idea of increasing the state gasoline tax, 44 percent say they would be more likely to support an increase if it would cost them less than $5 per month.
Similarly, while a majority initially expresses opposition to the idea of tolling highways that are currently toll-free, the sentiment swings the other way when respondents are reminded that a significant proportion of the revenue would come from out-of-state motorists using Pennsylvania highways to travel somewhere else. Two-thirds of voters support the tolling idea when told that local traffic could be excused from paying tolls. Finally, voters by nearly a 2-to-1 ratio agree that funding sources for transportation projects should accommodate inflation. Inflation-sensitive funding sources for the highway and mass transit systems would keep policymakers from having to re-solve the same crisis every few years, as has been the practice for the last several decades.
"It's easy to run away from a lasting solution by saying that voters don't like the idea of increasing fees and taxes," said Robert E. Latham, executive vice president of Associated Pennsylvania Constructors and spokesperson for the TCI coalition. "But this poll provides strong evidence that voters expect their elected representatives to address important issues and solve problems. Single-focus proposals, such as monetizing the Turnpike or borrowing excessively, do not constitute long-term solutions."
Latham noted that the majority of respondents said they were unaware of the funding crisis. "What that tells us is that there is a significant opportunity to bring voters into this process, to help them understand the connection between economic well being and a sound transportation infrastructure and to educate them about the extent of this crisis," Latham said. "So, rather than take the position that they don't like the idea of increasing taxes and fees, let's give them some credit for their ability to understand the problem and support a solution that will serve their best interests."