2011-05-12 / Local & State

Toll Hike Seems At Opposition To Corbett’s Policy

By Mark Scolforo

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Gov. Tom Corbett has repeatedly stated his staunch opposition to increasing taxes or fees, but five Pennsylvania gubernatorial appointees to a two-state agency voted earlier this week to sharply increase tolls on seven Delaware River bridges.

Half the 10-member board of the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission serves at Corbett’s pleasure, and all five of the Pennsylvania appointees were put on the commission by Corbett’s Democratic predecessor, Ed Rendell.

Corbett’s office on Thursday did not provide any comment on Monday’s vote, which seems to fly in the face of the Republican governor’s opposition to increasing taxes and fees.

Tolls, fees and taxes were a central topic of Corbett’s campaign last year, and arose last month as his transportation funding panel met for the first time.

Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch, who heads the group, said then that licensing or vehicle registration fee increases, or tolling roadways, were open for discussion as they worked on recommendations to the governor and Legislature.

Schoch categorically ruled out a gas tax, however. There is some support in the Legislature for a Marcellus Shale natural gas extraction tax, and the Capitol is in budget season.

A toll bridge commission spokesman said the decision is projected to increase annual revenues from $89 million to $113 million, or by about 27 percent. The new rate schedule will boost passenger vehicle tolls from 75 cents to $1 when it takes effect July 1. Truck tolls will rise by 75 cents per axle, or from $2.50 to $3.25 for nonpickup two-axle trucks.

Without the higher tolls, the agency’s bond rating would have been jeopardized, potentially affecting its ability to pursue capital projects, commission spokesman Pete Peterson said.

One of the Pennsylvania commission members, Melissa Heller, declined to comment. Phone messages were left for the other four.

The commission’s previous most recent toll increase, for trucks, took effect four years ago.

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