Trib editorial: Injunction renews questions into PennDOT’s funding

April 12, 2018 GMT

A preliminary-injunction request adds urgency regarding the already high stakes in the $6 billion federal class-action lawsuit objecting to Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission toll increases under state Act 44. Seeking to halt Act 44′s flow of turnpike toll dollars to PennDOT until the lawsuit’s resolved, a truckers’ group, one of two plaintiffs, is urging quick action because, it says, another transfer of turnpike money is due April 30 — and the lawsuit’s rationale echoes Act 44′s regrettable backstory.

That 2007 law requiring the turnpike to give PennDOT $450 million annually was premised on the notion that the money would come from imposing tolls on Interstate 80. It took the federal government until 2010 to reject tolling I-80, but when it did, its rationale involved federal law that requires spending toll money only on highways where it’s collected.

Nevertheless remaining PennDOT’s Act 44 cash cow, the turnpike has been milking its users ever since, via ever-higher tolls, to meet its funding obligations. And now, this $6 billion lawsuit contends — as did the feds in rejecting I-80 tolls — that federal law bars use of turnpike toll money for anything other than turnpike operations, repairs and improvements.

Even if this injunction request doesn’t succeed, the lawsuit well may. And because Pennsylvania must be better prepared for that outcome than it was for the feds’ rejection of I-80 tolls, Harrisburg must revisit Act 44 and how PennDOT is funded — posthaste.