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Harrisburg Politics

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Poll shows support for legal recreational marijuana, Pennsylvania Auditor General says time to legalize is now

Posted By on Thu, Sep 21, 2017 at 4:28 PM

Eugene DePasquale
  • Eugene DePasquale
On Sept. 21, Franklin & Marshall College released its latest political poll showing Pennsylvanians are emerging with clear eyes in their support for legalizing recreational marijuana. According to the poll of about 400 registered voters, 59 percent of Pennsylvanians say that recreational marijuana should be made legal. Only 31 percent say that it shouldn’t be made legal, with 9 percent undecided. The support and opposition are both the highest and lowest results, respectively, the poll has ever seen.

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Saturday, September 16, 2017

Allegheny County is increasing its bus riders and cyclists, but five area state reps voted to reduce transit and bike funds

Posted By on Sat, Sep 16, 2017 at 12:48 PM

West Mifflin residents celebrate the 55 bus extension, but proposed cuts could ax the route. - PHOTO COURTESY OF CHANDANA CHERUKUPALLI
  • Photo courtesy of Chandana Cherukupalli
  • West Mifflin residents celebrate the 55 bus extension, but proposed cuts could ax the route.
The U.S. Census just released its 2016 estimates for commuters in Allegheny County, and the number of Pittsburghers biking and using public transit is growing. Compared to 2015, people who commute to work via public transit grew 0.8 percent, and by bicycle by 0.2 percent. (In the city of Pittsburgh, bike commuters increased by 0.9 percent).

Allegheny County is actually bucking national and statewide trends, in terms of public-transit use. The U.S. as a whole decreased its share of public-transit users by 0.1 percent from 2015 to 2016, as did the state of Pennsylvania.

But six five state representatives from Allegheny County just voted for a House budget bill that proposes $50 million in cuts to public-transit funds, as well as cutting $50 million in multi-modal funds, which are used to build non-car infrastructure, including bike lanes. The representatives —
John Maher (R-Upper St. Clair), Jason Ortitay (R-South Fayette), Rick Saccone (R-Elizabeth), Hal English (R-Allison Park), Mark Mustio (R-North Fayette) and Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Marshall) — all voted for the bill, and were the only Allegheny County representatives to do so. The bill passed by two votes. The only Allegheny County Republican to vote against the proposed budget was Eli Evankovich (R-Murrysville); Hal English (R-Allison Park) was marked "excused" from the vote.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Why a small item in Gov. Wolf’s budget proposal is a big deal for Pennsylvania public transit

Posted By on Wed, Feb 15, 2017 at 1:48 PM

Gov. Tom Wolf at a press event in March 2016 - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Gov. Tom Wolf at a press event in March 2016
Expanding Allegheny County’s public-transit network is an idea that has wide-reaching support. Residents in low-income neighborhoods say they need more buses because that is their only means of getting around affordably. Wealthier neighborhoods often desire a light-rail system that connects to Downtown and other hip neighborhoods. And while finding additional funds has proven extremely difficult, Gov. Tom Wolf is proposing a fix that would at least stop cash from funneling out of Pennsylvania’s public-transit fund.

For the past several years, a growing chunk of the Pennsylvania's motor vehicle fund has been siphoned off to pay for an increasing number of Pennsylvania State Police troopers. (Monies from the fund are used to pay for a multitude of projects, including bridge and road construction.) Last year, state legislators responded by passing a rule limiting PennDOT’s allocation for state police, and mandated that allocation shrink by 4 percent each year until it’s reduced to $500 million. But Gov. Wolf is going even further and is proposing moving the state-police funding out of the motor vehicle fund entirely.

In his 2017-2018 budget, Wolf  wants to fund the troopers through a $25-per-person fee, for towns that rely solely on the service of state police, instead of taking money from the motor vehicle fund. "Nothing else in life is free," said Wolf of state police in Allentown’s Morning Call in February, "and this isn't either."

Chris Sandvig, a transit expert at Pittsburgh Community Redevelopment Group, says that under the current circumstances, the motor vehicle fund is obligated to pay for both road construction projects and state police, meaning funding for state police is in direct conflict for money that could go to improve our roads. Sandvig says that as the motor vehicle fund is increasingly taken over to pay for state police, then money to build road constructions could then be in conflict with funds for public-transit improvements.

And Sandvig says more and more small municipalities are using state troopers to police their towns. In fact, statewide news website Keystone Crossroads reported in May 2016 that more than half of Pennsylvania municipalities fully rely on state troopers for police service.

“The users of the highway system are paying for state troopers in towns that don’t want to pay for police,” says Sandvig.

Sandvig says the more money used from the motor vehicle fund to pay for state police means a significant chunk is unavailable to pay for potential public-transit projects. In 2010, the motor vehicle fund contributed $530 million to state police, and in 2016 it had ballooned to $839 million. “If it continues at this rate, it’s on track to a hit a billion dollars this year,” says Sandvig. “This is unsustainable, and something needs to be done.”

Currently, the motor vehicle fund is primarily funded from a tax on gasoline and a fee collected through motor-vehicle registration. Sandvig is pleased with the governor’s proposal. “So many people put so much work into funding public transportation, and the money we pay at the pump should go to transportation," says Sandvig.

Wolf’s proposal needs support from the state legislature before becoming law, but state Republicans, who control both the House and Senate are open to negotiating a fee on municipalities.

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