The Lead

Philadelphia Democrat proposes more local options for mass-transit funding

By: - June 20, 2023 11:46 am

(Philadelphia Tribune photo)

Rep. Joe Hohenstein, D-Philadelphia, on Tuesday hosted a news conference on the Capitol steps to announce a new bill that would allow local communities to raise funds for their own transportation systems.

Hohenstein was joined by Rep. Ben Waxman, D-Philadelphia, Kwanesha Clarke of Liberty Resources, Connor Descheemaker of Transit Forward Philadelphia and other leaders in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh communities. 

“That connection to the federal funding is really the essential piece of why we need to be able to have a local funding option,” Hohenstein said. “That really gives that partnership that we always talk about, local, state and federal, real meaning.”

Hohenstein’s bill would give communities the ability to fund their own mass transit systems locally by allowing a limited number of counties to levy and collect three additional local taxes to fund transportation projects. The bill would increase flexibility and help build a stronger economy by doing this, he said. 

Hohenstein began seeking co-sponsors for the proposal in March. It was sent to the House Local Government Committee last week.,

Hohenstein blamed increasing tolls and dwindling gas tax revenues for leaving roads and bridges in Pennsylvania underfunded and in need of repair.

Currently, the state’s population is projected to grow by approximately 2.5 million people over the next 20 years. The burden of ensuring that Pennsylvania’s transportation infrastructure can support such growth falls on the state’s most populous counties, Hohenstein said.

In 2019, Rep. Martina White, R-Philadelphia, formed the House Transportation Infrastructure Task Force to give a comprehensive overview of the status of Pennsylvania’s transportation system and its funding mechanics.

The task force revealed, among other things, crumbling roads, failing bridges, aging railcars and buses along with hours of time wasted on congested highways and inner-city gridlock, according to the report.

As laid out in Hohenstien’s bill, state government would finally be implementing one of the primary recommendations of White’s task force, Descheemaker said.

“With these streams, systems like our SEPTA will be able to access unprecedented federal money available through the [Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act] and the IRA,” Descheemaker said. “All of which require a local match that all of our regions don’t have available and don’t qualify for.”

Hohenstein also said the bill would help seniors and members of the disability community outside of the city who are unable to drive by getting them around more effectively than methods currently in place.

Seniors and members of the disability community from both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh echoed Hohenstein’s sentiment.

“Transportation is the cornerstone of independence,” Clarke said. “The work that we have done to make transportation more accessible is vital to seniors and people with disabilities but there is more work to be done. The funding from House Bill 1307 and House Bill 902 could help improve our transit system infrastructure, making it more accessible to the people of our community. The funding SEPTA could receive by doing this could potentially advance SEPTA to being 100% for seniors and people with disabilities.”

Hohenstein wrapped up the event by highlighting how SEPTA was there for the people of Philadelphia during the recent collapse of an overpass on Interstate 95 in Northeast Philadelphia and argued that Harrisburg needs to be there for SEPTA in return.

“As we have seen this past week, when a transportation crisis occurs, we lean on our public transit system,” Hohenstein said. 

“SEPTA has stepped up with increased services while I-95 is being repaired. Now we need to step up and give it funding flexibility and give Philadelphia and its surrounding counties the ability to fully support one of the largest people-moving transit systems in the country. “Local funding options are essential to the survival of public transit, and public transit is essential for our economic growth.”

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Samuel O'Neal
Samuel O'Neal

Samuel O'Neal is a summer intern for the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents Association. He is a senior journalism major at Temple University.