Pennsylvania voters back infrastructure tax hike: Governor

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) -- Most Pennsylvania voters support a plan for higher taxes on oil companies and motor vehicle licenses to pay for repairs to roads, bridges and public transit, state Governor Ed Rendell said on Thursday.

Rendell released the poll ahead of an August 23 meeting of lawmakers to discuss ways of filling a $472 million gap in transportation funding created by the federal government’s rejection of a state plan to put tolls on Interstate 80.

The poll found 74 percent of voters in favor of closing a tax loophole on oil company profits to raise about $500 million for infrastructure spending, the Democratic governor said.

The poll of 504 people that was taken by Republican and Democratic pollsters, also found 48 percent of respondents would back an increase in motor vehicle license fees to bring them in line with inflation. Slightly more than the 45 percent of those polled rejected the idea.

But a majority of those surveyed from August 16 to 17 rejected the idea of raising the gasoline tax which would cost the average driver 46 cents a week if it were raised in line with inflation, as favored by Rendell.

Increased spending on infrastructure was backed by 74 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of Republicans, according to the poll, which had a 4.4 percent margin of error. Among Republicans, voters favored more spending on roads and bridges by 51 percent to 18 percent.

“By a three-to-one margin, Republican voters who are hostile to the word ‘spending’ gave a positive response,” said Republican pollster Frank Luntz during a conference call for reporters.

Asked whether lawmakers would back more new taxes at a time when they are also being asked to approve a new tax on natural gas drilling, Rendell said energy companies, not individuals, would be required to pay the levies.

If the state increased taxes on oil profits, companies would be prevented by law from passing their costs on to consumers, Rendell said.

The governor, who steps down at the end of his second term in January, said thousands of roads and bridges may remain in a substandard condition if the front-runner in the gubernatorial race, Tom Corbett, is elected because he has promised not to raise taxes.

Rendell is scheduled to announce details of his infrastructure spending proposals ahead of the lawmakers’ meeting on August 23.

Reporting by Jon Hurdle, 267 210 5072; Editing by Andrew Hay