By Rep. Anita Kulik
The Pennsylvania House of Representatives will be out of session until March 15. Until that time, the Appropriations Committee will be conducting budget hearings and committee meetings on matters from transportation to education to health care, and all other matters that will be considered in the final budget due June 30.
On a budget matter, a local issue has arisen in the district that has the potential to affect several of the municipalities along I-79. From the North Boroughs down to Carnegie and Scott, most of the municipalities in my district run along I-79. Thousands of vehicles travel this roadway each day, utilizing the many exits to access the towns, businesses and residences along the way. Workers, shoppers and residents rely on this highway to conveniently get them to their destinations.
In an attempt to fix funding issues, the administration and PennDOT have proposed imposing tolls on several bridges across the state, one of which is the bridge at the Bridgeville interchange of I-79. I am joining several of my colleagues in voicing opposition to this proposal. I have heard from local officials and residents who are concerned with this plan, not only from the standpoint of cost but also the impact on local traffic.
If a toll is imposed on I-79, there is little doubt that alternate routes will be sought by travelers. The most logical alternative would be to take Route 50 (Washington Pike). This is already a well-traveled road, especially between the Scott and the Bridgeville exit. To avoid the Bridgeville exit, the Scott and Carnegie exits will be put to substantial use, more than likely causing more traffic congestion in these areas. Some may argue that more people passing through Carnegie or Scott could result in more business, but more than likely those travelers will not stop to enjoy the amenities of the towns but instead keep on their way. And more traffic could discourage the locals from going out.
Increased traffic should not be the only concern. Daily tolls of $1 to $2 on workers who use the bridge will quickly add up and be confusing to those who use the bridge for infrequent trips to doctors or family. The anticipated fee of $10 to $20 on truckers is extreme.
Funding road projects is increasingly expensive. There is no sure answer to the problem.
Infrastructure is vital to our communities and the proposed changes to this part of I-79 are respectable. However, I do not believe a toll to help pay for this and other roads is the answer.
Most importantly, perhaps, is that I have a great concern that, much like the Johnstown Flood Tax, the tolls will never go away, even after the projects are completed. This remains a proposal and debate will continue.
State income tax
Other matters continue to be debated, including the Governor's proposal to raise the personal income tax. While the argument is that certain residents will see their state income tax lowered, many will see an increase.
Raising taxes is never a popular idea in any scenario, but in light of this past year and all the economic suffering that has been suffered by so many, this proposal is raising many, many concerns.
Senate Bill 109, signed into law on Feb. 22, provides that income received from the Paycheck Protection Loan Program, already excluded from federal gross income under the pertinent sections of the Tax Relief Act of 2020, is not subject to the Pennsylvania personal income tax.
The bill further excludes economic impact payments from the state income tax, and establishes a hospitality industry recovery program, among other things. The bill passed out of the House of Representatives by unanimous vote on Feb. 5.
Let me again remind you that the rent and property tax rebate forms are available in my office, or can be filed online.
As always, please reach out to my staff or me if we may be of any assistance to you. Stay well!