Can Transportation Be on the Agenda in PA’s 2010 Governor’s Race?
Given that the long, budget-impasse-dominated summer of 2009 in Harrisburg only recently drew to a close, it’s hard to imagine that we’re already hearing that next year’s budget deliberations may be even more contentious. But that’s the way it looks to play out. Consider what’s in store: State revenues are not expected to rebound much, and there won’t be another large federal stimulus package available to help paper over some of the spending cuts. Add to this an open governor’s race and the whole House and half the Senate facing reelection, and the potential for another budget stalemate is great.
Given all this–and the prospect for the budget as a whole to dominate political discussions–is there a chance to inject the issue of transportation into the governor’s race? There’s certainly the need to put this issue into play. Even if Pennsylvania’s resubmitted application to toll I-80 is approved by the federal government, the Commonwealth faces challenges as to adequately funding transportation for the long term and in ways that keep existing infrastructure in a state of good repair while also advancing a balanced, sustainable approach to transportation. And if the I-80 tolling proposal is not approved down in Washington, then the state transportation funding situation next year essentially goes off the cliff, with a $500 million hole on the revenue side.
A recent post on Streetsblog Capitol Hill discusses what transportation advocates can learn from the experience in this year’s governor’s race in Virginia, where transportation policy has become a major issue. For those of us in Pennsylvania, a key part of the story rings true: Virginians recognize the need for a viable way of funding transportation, yet there is no appetite for transportation-related taxes as means of paying for it. (We constantly hear that an increase in the state’s gas tax has no chance in Harrisburg.)
Still, Streetsblog report Ryan Avent stresses that transportation advocates shouldn’t back down from pushing for new levels of support for transportation. The key, he suggests, is mobilizing public support (or at least enough to get the attention of elected officials or those seeking to be) by linking increased transportation investments with tangible improvements in how people get around. Relatedly, it is crucial to connect specific local/regional needs and priorities–for instance, related to economic development, environmental conservation, or quality-of-life issues–to what the transportation-funding picture looks like at the state and federal level.
Transportation for Pennsylvania (T4PA), a statewide coalition being facilitated by 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania (and a partner in the national Transportation for America campaign), is working on both these fronts: linking stronger state policies on transportation funding to a real-life vision for transportation in the Commonwealth, and involving regional partners (RenewLV among them) as a means of building grassroots support while understanding what’s needed at the local level.
The key for 2010 will be generating enough public and media interest so that the question that has surfaced again and again during this year’s gubernatorial race in Virginia–“What is your plan for the state’s transportation system?”–can be put into play here in Pennsylvania. Were transportation to become an issue here in 2010, a number of more Pennsylvania-specific questions for the candidates would naturally follow: What is your vision for how Pennsylvania can work with USDOT to implement an integrated rail system in the Commonwealth? (Note: PennDOT’s state rail plan will be completed by early 2010.) Will you continue the important work of the “Smart Transportation” initiative started by PennDOT Secretary Biehler? How can Pennsylvania promote transit-oriented development as an economic driver in older core communities?
In the end, putting transportation on the gubernatorial agenda next year will be–as ever–a challenge. But the experience of Virginia this past year suggests that it’s not only possible, but in fact necessary given transportation’s deep impact across an array of issues, such as urban revitalization, economic growth, jobs, climate change, health, and others.
To get involved with RenewLV’s work on transportation issues–including our Sustainable Transportation Initiative–email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.