A transit tax wish list

A transit tax wish list

A new report by a coalition that includes the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC), the state Department of Transportation (PennDOT) and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) comes at a time when there are “risks to state transit funding across the commonwealth, along with concerns about the impact of pending litigation and untenable debt at the PTC.”

A press release accompanying the report states that the coalition “calls on state and local officials to act now to address the looming transportation funding crisis driven by changes coming to Act 44 of 2007” which involves a transfer of $450 million a year from the turnpike to PennDOT.  That transfer is to fall to $50 million in 2022 but turnpike toll increases are expected to last until 2048.

Since the report focuses on Southeastern Pennsylvania, several of the local options for funding mass transit are specific to Philadelphia and its nearby counties.  According to a news article a report for Allegheny County is forthcoming “but the conclusions are expected to be largely the same as the SEPTA study since the issues and the consultant are identical.”

Looking at the local options in the report and assuming some or all will carry over to the Allegheny County report, it is useful to point out the following:

  • The tax on alcohol/malt beverages, the $5 local add-on to auto registration and the hotel occupancy tax are all levied by Allegheny County currently, but only the alcohol/malt beverage tax is used to support mass transit.  It is levied at 7 percent but has a maximum allowable rate of 10 percent.
  • Not mentioned in the report is the vehicle rental tax, which Allegheny County levies at a rate of $2 per day and is used to support mass transit.
  • Taxes on cigarettes, bicycles, lead batteries, gasoline, trips taken by cars summoned through online apps and on the assessed value of vehicles are not taxed in Allegheny County.
  • The county has a 1 percent local add-on sales tax but it is not exclusively dedicated to mass transit.  The Port Authority has received $3 million a year from the tax since 2013.

Nearly all of the options are going to require permission from the General Assembly. At the time that the turnpike’s payment is scheduled to fall, the next PennDOT performance review and Auditor General’s audit on the Port Authority should be released.  Any chance enhanced or new revenue sources would be tied to improved performance of the Port Authority?