What does it mean for transportation?
The General Assembly wrapped up its annual budget marathon late Friday night by adopting a $45.2 billion state spending plan for the 2022-23 fiscal year. The budget was adopted with overwhelming bipartisan support and represents the final budget of the Wolf administration. Touting as “wins” in this year’s budget include historic funding of the state’s public education system as well as increased investments in PA’s housing, environmental, mental health, and anti-gun violence programs.
The budget, however, did include one transportation related item of note. The legislature adopted Governor Wolf’s proposal to accelerate the phase down of money currently diverted from the state’s Motor License Fund (MLF) for State Police operations to a flat $500 million. This pumps approximately $175 million back into the Motor License Fund immediately instead of waiting five more years to receive it in a gradual schedule. It is too early to tell what PennDOT will do with this additional money, which could be used to supplement the current program, match federal IIJA funds, or apply toward debt financing of the department’s Major P3 Bridge Initiative (see status update below).
APC, along with other industry associations, launched an advocacy campaign in May calling for the General Assembly to drop the amount of diverted funds from $673 to $200 million. Nearly 1,000 emails, calls and tweets were made to lawmakers with your help. Although we were not successful in dropping the diverted funds below the governor’s proposal of $500, the stage is now set for continued advocacy for next year’s budget with a new administration.
General Assembly Passes Senate Bill 382 Casting Doubts on PennDOT’s Major P3 Bridge Initiative’s Future
As part of the final budget was the passage of Senate Bill 382 after a compromise was reached with the administration. The bill was passed by the House and Senate earlier this year in an attempt to reform the Commonwealth’s Public Private Partnership Law (Act 88) and required that PennDOT’s Major Bridge Initiative be reconsidered under the tenants of the newly enacted reforms. The bill was put on hold pending discussions with Governor Wolf and also awaiting the results of the pending litigation filed against the proposal. The Commonwealth Court issued a ruling voiding the entire initiative on June 30.
Senate Bill 382 was amended to allow the initiative to move forward without the use of user fees, i.e. tolls. Specifically, the bill rescinds the PennDOT Major Bridge P3 Initiative and limits the scope to the nine candidate bridges (instead of any other bridge in the state). The bill allows PennDOT to preserve the preliminary designs and engineering plans for the nine candidate bridges.
The bill also:
- Increases transparency by requiring PennDOT to publish a detailed analysis and requiring PennDOT to distribute a copy of the P3 Board’s resolution.
- Incorporates public comments by creating a new 30-day public comment period prior to the P3 Board’s voting meeting.
- Creates a checks-and-balance by reducing the scope of PennDOT’s power to optional user fees for new infrastructure and ensuring the General Assembly has more time to assess any transportation projects passed by the P3 Board.
What is unclear is if this law supersedes the Commonwealth Court decision or if the department can even more forward with the reconstruction of these nine bridges without the use of tolls. If the initiative is to move forward, PennDOT will have to come up with another funding source which could be the additional $175 million gained by the General Assembly’s budget actions. APC will continue to work with the department to determine the best and most prudent use of applying these available funds.