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Pa. gas price hike upsets motorists

May 05, 1997

By LISA GRAYBEAL

Staff Writer, Waynesboro

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Ernie Mellott says fuel to run his three tractor-trailer rigs from Virginia to Maine costs him an average of $2,500 a week, so he's not pleased with the new Pennsylvania law that raised the gas price by 3.5 cents a gallon.

"Why should truck drivers and the general public pay more?" asked Mellott, of Greencastle, Pa., who stopped Monday to get gas at the Travel Port truck stop at Exit 3 off Interstate 81.

The law, which raises the price of gas and vehicle registration fees to pay for road repairs and construction, was passed April 30 by a 107-88 vote in the House and a 26-23 vote in the Senate.

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Gov. Tom Ridge signed the measure into law the same day. The gas tax hike went into effect May 1.

Although the legislation increased the price of a gallon of gas by 3.5 cents, customers likely will see an increase of 4 cents at the pump since most gas stations can't raise the price by a half cent, said Tonya Myers, manager of the Texaco gas station at the truck stop.

A check of area stations Monday indicated the average price of a gallon of unleaded self-serve gasoline in Franklin County, Pa., was about $1.23.

"We hear a lot of complaining, especially from the truck drivers," said Myers, who said some customers have threatened to fill up in Maryland, just four miles away.

Self-serve regular unleaded gasoline can be pumped across the border in Washington County, Md., for about $1.19 a gallon.

The increase will cost the average motorist whose car gets 22 miles per gallon and who drives 11,255 miles a year $30 more annually. The additional tax comes on top of about $350 a year residents already were paying in state and federal fuel taxes.

Under the new law, vehicle registration fees will jump 50 percent effective July 1. Registration fees for cars will increase from $24 to $36.

Drivers of tractor-trailer rigs and other heavy rigs face a 50 percent increase in registration fees after Jan. 1, 1998. The hike will push the cost for registering those vehicles to a maximum of $800.

"They've got you between a rock and a hard place," said Ralph Woodring of Shady Grove, Pa., who spends about $50 a week on gas to run his Chevy truck, a Jeep and two lawn mowers. "There's nothing you can do unless you want to ride a bicycle."

The increases would raise $404 million to improve Pennsylvania's 40,000-mile state highway system, including $196 million for repairs and $208 million for new construction.

The new law has been criticized by some legislators who voted against the tax increase.

State Rep. Jeffrey Coy, D-Franklin, said the gas tax and registration fee increase wasn't necessary because the state has nearly $1 billion that could be applied to maintenance and construction projects.

"It is unconscionable to vote to raise people's taxes when we already have more than enough money available in the state's coffers to pay for improvements on Pennsylvania's roads. We should have used that money first," Coy said.

Coy calls the measure "an empty promise" for Pennsylvanians who expect their roads and bridges to be fixed.

Residents of Franklin County, along with other rural counties, will pay more but will receive no extra funding for road maintenance because of a new formula for distributing the revenues, Coy said.

The formula doubles the percentage of money a county receives based on lane miles, he said.

Some people said they don't expect to see any road improvements.

"The roads aren't going to improve as long as (Gov.) Ridge is going to push for sports complexes," said Greg Gordon of Zullinger, Pa., who drives a truck for a grocery chain.

Arthur Fernandez, filling up his red Ford Mustang at Sheetz in Waynesboro, said he's not optimistic about seeing road improvements even with the price increase.

"If that's what they're using it for I'd like to see it," he said.

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