April 30--A new $5 charge for every registered vehicle could raise about $818,000 for Beaver County each year.
But officials in Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties say they have not yet formally discussed the tax, which was created by the recent state transportation funding legislation, Act 89 of 2013. Each county across the state has the option to implement the increase.
Allegheny County could raise $4.7 million each year, and Lawrence County could generate around $445,000 annually, based on actively registered vehicles as of Dec. 31, 2013.
"I think you'd have to be desperate to try and do something like that," Allegheny Councilman Michael Finnerty, a Democrat whose District 4 ranges from South Fayette to Neville townships, said Tuesday.
Democrats dominate Allegheny Council, but county communications director Amie Downs said only private discussions about the vehicle tax have occurred.
Robert Callen, executive director of Beaver County Regional Council of Governments, informed municipalities about the new fee at the organization's April meeting.
"Personally I'd like to see that happen because it's money that stays within the county that could be used for municipal road purposes," Callen said afterward. "That doesn't even show up on my bottom line as a car owner."
Douglas Hill, executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, said the legislation allows the money to be spent on highways, bridges and safety projects for that infrastructure.
The legislation also says the money could be spent on "other transportation projects," but it appears that language will still be limited to those infrastructure and safety areas, Hill said.
The state's constitution has restrictions on how motor license funds are spent, with the idea of keeping the Legislature from funding general fund expenditures, he noted. PennDOT believes that constitutional restriction applies to the $5 fee, meaning the new revenue couldn't be used for mass transit needs like busing, Hill said.
An ordinance for a county can go into effect Jan. 1, 2015, but counties must also notify PennDOT at least 90 days before, according to a summary sheet by the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania.
Finnerty, who opposes the new fee, said the state should have implemented the increase if it wanted it.
"They want to push it down to make the local officials to do it," he said.
In Beaver County, Commissioner Joe Spanik said he's in favor of the fee.
"This could help fix some of those deficient bridges we need to fix," said Spanik, a Democrat.
Instead of doing one or two bridge projects each year, the additional revenue could help the county complete three or four bridge projects each year, Spanik said.
Beaver County Commissioners Chairman Tony Amadio avoided saying where he stands on the increase, which he referred to as a tax. The Democrat commissioner said he'd have to see what the benefits are versus the ramifications of the tax.
The county's Republican commissioner, Dennis Nichols, did not return a phone call Tuesday.
Copyright 2014 - Beaver County Times, Pa.