Pennsylvanians prefer lease to higher taxes, new tolls, and more bonded debt
HARRISBURG, PA — Informed registered voters in Pennsylvania say leasing the turnpike to an “experienced, qualified private sector operator” is preferable to raising taxes, fees or allowing “the Turnpike Commission to issue bonds and impose tolls on a currently free interstate highway,” according to a statewide poll conducted by Susquehanna Polling & Research, Inc.
“Despite the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on heavy lobbying and a misinformation campaign by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, this poll demonstrates that citizens prefer leasing the turnpike to higher taxes and more debt,” said Matthew J. Brouillette, president of the Commonwealth Foundation. “When citizens get the facts rather than the Turnpike Commission’s propaganda, they are more favorably inclined toward leasing the turnpike than Act 44.”
Act 44 of 2007 dramatically expanded the Turnpike Commission’s power and role in the Commonwealth’s transportation funding policy for the next 50 years. Under the law, the Turnpike Commission will borrow upwards of $13 billion—eventually costing taxpayers and toll-payers more than $25 billion in principal and interest—to only partially fund the state’s transportation infrastructure and mass transit needs. To pay off the massive debt, the Turnpike Commission will begin tolling the currently free Interstate 80, if approval is granted by the Federal Highway Administration, and tolls on the Turnpike will increase by 25% in 2009 and 3% annually thereafter. However, there are no controls over higher tolls under Act 44, as the Turnpike Commission retains unlimited authority to increase tolls on both the Turnpike and Interstate 80.
“Critical funding of our state’s transportation infrastructure is now dependent on one of Pennsylvania’s most corrupt, patronage-laden, and inefficient government agencies,” said Brouillette. “Fortunately, the General Assembly and Governor Rendell have the opportunity to repeal the flawed legislation that was rammed through the process by the Turnpike Commission’s lobbyists and legislative patrons.” Proposals from more than a dozen companies interested in operating the Turnpike in exchange for billions of dollars are expected in the coming weeks.
The Susquehanna Polling & Research “Spring 2008 Statewide Poll” included four questions on leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike, how to pay for the Commonwealth’s transportation funding needs, and the perception of the Turnpike Commission’s performance. The poll was conducted March 5-9, 2008 with a sample size of 700 registered voters with a prior vote history. The margin of error is +/-3.7%. The questions and top-line results of the survey follow. For greater polling detail, including responses by region, party, political ideology, education levels, union membership, gender, and age, view the complete poll results online at www.CommonwealthFoundation.org/docs/Spring2008Poll.pdf.
Q1. A transportation study group commissioned by the state concluded that Pennsylvania should be spending approximately one billion dollars more per year on the state’s roads, bridges and highways. One of the proposals to raise these new funds [for transportation projects] is to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike to an experienced, qualified, privately-owned company. Do you support or oppose leasing the turnpike for these purposes?
1. Strongly support – 103 (15%)
2. Somewhat support – 115 (16%)
3. Strongly oppose – 301 (43%)
4. Somewhat oppose – 100 (14%)
5. Undecided – 80 (11%)(IF OPPOSE/UNDECIDED, ASK Q2)
Q2. Would you be more likely to support leasing the PA Turnpike to an experienced, qualified, privately-owned company if the lease arrangement included oversight by the state, strong performance requirements regarding road maintenance projects, and strict limits on toll increases? [N=480]
1. Yes – 217 (45%)
2. No – 220 (46%)
3. Undecided – 43 (9%)
Q3. What is the best way for Pennsylvania to raise additional funds to pay for its transportation infrastructure needs: (READ AND ROTATE A-D)
1. Raise taxes or fees, Or – 114 (16%)
2. Allow the Turnpike Commission to issue bonds and impose tolls on a currently free interstate highway, Or – 178 (25%)
3. Lease the turnpike to an experienced, qualified, private sector operator, Or – 198 (28%)
4. Do nothing, Or – 79 (11%)
5. Undecided – 55 (8%)
6. None/other – 73 (10%)
Q4. Do you believe the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission manages its toll money and operates its roads in a cost-efficient and effective manner?
1. Yes, definitely – 58 (8%)
2. Yes, probably – 141 (20%)
3. No – 303 (43%)
4. Undecided – 197 (28%)
“These polling results show that the Turnpike Commission has done an excellent job of poisoning public opinion about leasing the Turnpike. However, it also reveals that when citizens are given more information and must choose among the various transportation funding alternatives, their support for leasing the turnpike dramatically increases,” said Brouillette. “This suggests that if Governor Rendell chooses to aggressively engage in an education effort of both lawmakers and the general public, he can repeal Act 44 and provide citizens with a better transportation funding policy. If he fails, Pennsylvanians will be stuck with paying interest to the Turnpike Commission’s bond attorneys rather than earning interest off of a multi-billion dollar lease agreement.”
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NOTE: For greater polling detail, including responses by region, party, political ideology, education levels, union membership, gender, and age, view the complete poll results online at www.CommonwealthFoundation.org/docs/Spring2008Poll.pdf.
The Commonwealth Foundation (www.CommonwealthFoundation.org) is an independent, non-profit public policy research and educational institute based in Harrisburg, PA.
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