LOWER MAKEFIELD >> Commuters who use the Delaware River toll bridges and the Pennsylvania Turnpike would receive a tax credit under legislation being proposed in the Pennsylvania Senate and House of Representatives.
With tolling set to begin at the new Scudder Falls Bridge on Sunday, State Senator Steve Santarsiero joined State Rep. Perry Warren at the Park and Ride lot on Woodside Road in Lower Makefield to announce companion pieces of legislation - Senate Bill 451 and House Bill 329 - aimed at easing the financial burden of commuting to work.
The Senate bill would provide a 50 percent tax credit of up to $500 a year to commuters who pay tolls on the nearly 400 mile long Turnpike and at the toll bridges operated by the Delaware River Port Authority, the Burlington County Bridge Commission and the Delaware Valley Joint Toll Bridge Commission, including the Scudder Falls Bridge.
“The legislators who have signed onto this legislation believe it’s important because while we need to invest in our infrastructure, we also need to make sure that our working families have the ability to get to their jobs on a daily basis without it becoming too much of an economic burden,” said Santarsiero.
“And here in Bucks County, in particular, we have a lot of folks who use bridges like the Scudder Falls Bridge on a daily basis,” said Santarsiero. “They commute into New Jersey for their livelihoods and then they come back home at the end of the day. So having this tax credit provides them with a little bit more economic security in the course of their employment.”
The tax credit would also benefit commuters across the Philadelphia region and across the state, including the thousands who regularly cross the Philadelphia bridges and who use the Pennsylvania Turnpike between the New Jersey border and the Ohio line, including Allegheny County and the greater Pittsburgh metropolitan area.
“We have a lot of commuters on a daily basis here in the Philadelphia Region, but also throughout the state who use the Turnpike on a daily basis and they commute on it,” said Santarsiero. “Having this tax credit is going to help all those folks as well.
“It’s a simple thing for us to do. And it’s something, particularly now that this bridge is being completed, the time has come to get this completed,” said Santarsiero. “We are building support in both the House and the Senate for it to happen and I am hopeful that we will see progress in this legislative session and we will get one of these bills to a point where we can make this a reality.”
In the House, State Rep. Warren has introduced HB 329, which mirrors SB 451.
“Less than 37 hours from now a toll will be enacted on the Scudder Falls Bridge and our residents, commuters and people traveling on I-295 across the new bridge will pay a toll of $2.60 if the toll is charged to a license plate and $1.25 if it is charged to an EZ Pass,” said Warren. “Consequently I am here today in support of House Bill 329.”
The bill provides a commuter tax credit of up to $500 on up to $1,000 in paid tolls - a 50 percent tax credit to individuals and small businesses that incur toll costs and have taxable income in a given tax year.
“This legislation will reduce the cost of commuting, it will help reduce business costs, it will encourage commuters to use the toll bridge and reduce the strain on our non-toll bridges in our communities and it will spur economic development,” Rep. Warren said.
And it will provide the same benefits for local commuters who use the Pennsylvania Turnpike to access nearby employment centers in King of Prussia and Norristown.
“Through a commuter tax credit, we are looking to benefit our communities, benefit our commuters and build our economy,” said Warren. “This bridge is a step in that direction and this commuter toll tax credit is a step toward achieving that as well.”
Under both pieces of legislation, commuters would have to apply for the credit by September 15 of each year.
The legislation is the latest in a series of infrastructure improvements and agreements that Santarsiero has fought for over the years for commuters.
During his time as township supervisor in Lower Makefield, Santarsiero advocated for a sound barrier along I-95 (now I-295), and as state representative in the 31st district, he fought the repeal of a longstanding reciprocity agreement between Pennsylvania and New Jersey on income taxes, which would have created a hardship for many Pennsylvania families.
Santarsiero said back in 2011-12 when the Bridge Commission was discussing the bridge project, there was a concern raised that if the bridge were to be tolled it could shift traffic to the smaller, toll-free spans such as the Washington Crossing Bridge and the Calhoun Street Bridge in Morrisville.
“To start using those other crossings, that’s a potential problem because it's wear and tear on infrastructure,” said Santarsiero. “It’s also wear and tear on the infrastructure that leads to those crossings and roads that are not designed as major arterial roads. So it made sense that if they were going to toll this bridge that we, at the state level, should provide some kind of relief.”
While the lawmakers said they don’t have an exact count of the number of Bucks Countians who commute across the river and would stand to benefit from the tax credit, they said on the busiest day an estimated 60,000 vehicles cross the Scudder Falls span.
“It is a significant bridge in terms of the number of cars that cross it,” said Santarsiero. “Just down stream, the Route One Bridge also carries about 60,000 cars per day. You’re talking a large number of vehicles. I would say 50 percent or more are probably coming from Bucks County,” he estimated.
“One of the reasons this area has become so populated in the last 20 to 30 years is because of the many businesses that are located in the Route One corridor - pharmaceutical companies and any number of white collar offices,” noted Santarsiero. “And there are a lot of public sector employees who work in New Jersey and live here in Bucks County and commute on a daily basis.”