By Jim Hertzler
During another challenging time, the late Gov. Robert P. Casey Sr., father of Pennsylvania’s current U.S. Senator, offered the sage advice that “We need to put our heads together instead of banging them together.”
That advice, it would seem, is all the more fitting today than ever before.
The polarization, the divisiveness, the partisanship; the outsized influence of special interests are all standing in the way of our state’s and our nation’s ability to find the common ground needed to address a myriad of unmet needs.
Take infrastructure, for example. Interstate 81 through my home of Cumberland County, a magnet for interstate commerce, is becoming more of a nightmare by the day.
I see it on my drive from Enola to Carlisle and back again every day, as do tens of thousands of other commuters and an ever-increasing number of truckers, just trying to do their jobs.
No study needed here, although PennDOT has an updated one — underscoring the need for capacity expansion and interchange improvements all along the I-81 corridor from I-78 in Lebanon County to the Maryland border.
This is about the public’s safety, and both our region’s and our nation’s economy.
In many areas, including ours, America’s interstate highway system needs to be rebuilt to meet 21st century demands. And the longer we wait, the more it will cost.
Pennsylvania state government enacted a major, but flawed, transportation funding law (Act 89) five years ago The same cannot be said of Washington D.C., where everyone from the White House on down has yet to prove they can stifle their partisan urges long enough to finally get something done.
Hope springs eternal that the recent infrastructure meeting at the White House — where the initial discussion of a bold, $2 trillion nationwide infrastructure plan was announced – will amount to more than the same tired lip service that we’ve seen for the part quarter-century.
This very critical issue demands real action, real resources and real political courage by both parties in both houses and in the White House.
At the state Capitol, meanwhile, where Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed a commonsense natural gas severance tax to provide the resources needed to finally address many of our state’s other infrastructure needs, it’s my hope that the Governor’s plan will receive the serious, bipartisan consideration it deserves.
To my Republican friends, I would just say, last year’s gubernatorial election is over; Wolf handily won re-election; he even won Republican Cumberland County.
His leadership of our state has been overwhelmingly endorsed by the citizens of this state, and his “Restore Pennsylvania” plan deserves to be brought forward, considered on its merits, amended as need be, and enacted.
Wolf’s very reasonable severance tax would generate roughly $300 million annually. Compare that to the billions Texas taxes the industry.
Wolf’s plan would then use the $300 million generated annually to finance a $4.5 billion bond issue to finally begin to address a laundry list of infrastructure needs including broad band internet access in rural areas; blight remediation in our older villages and towns (like West Fairview in Cumberland County); stormwater infrastructure, storm preparedness and streambank restoration; and, among other needs, perhaps most importantly of all, building the infrastructure needed to help make Pennsylvania businesses more energy efficient and competitive by directly tapping into Pennsylvania’s lower-cost natural gas resources.
The unmet infrastructure needs of our state are many. The resources available to meet those needs are scarce. Wolf’s relatively modest Marcellus Shale severance tax and Restore Pennsylvania Plan is a worthy initiative.
It’s time for our state officials to put their heads together, reach for common ground, and act for the common good of our Commonwealth by getting this done.
Jim Hertzler, a Democrat, is an elected county commissioner in Cumberland County. He is not running for re-election this year and will retire at year’s end.