The final weeks of 2013 saw the culmination of nearly eight years of efforts in mustering support for a transportation funding solution as the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed a bipartisan, multimodal measure to increase transportation funding by $2.3 billion per year.
Transportation advocates saw the funding crisis coming long before the bridge collapsed onto Interstate 70 in Washington County in 2005 – a precursor to the Minneapolis tragedy nearly two years later. Pennsylvania’s liquid fuel taxes had last been increased in 1997, and the federal tax in 1993. Both were flat taxes that do not increase as the cost of fuel rises.
Drumming up public support when most Americans already feel over-taxed and most policymakers fear that raising taxes or fees will result in voter backlash is, to say the least, a challenge. But the Coalition kept its focus and made steady progress, both in terms of the public’s awareness and attitudes, and the willingness of lawmakers to address the issue. The communication and outreach efforts included:
- Extensive use of qualitative and quantitative research to track public perceptions and develop and refine messages.
- The care and feeding of a statewide list of editorial writers and transportation beat reporters, as well as the Statehouse press corps.
- Editorial board briefings and guest column submissions.
- The staging of special events that garnered attention for this very important public policy issue.
- Securing statewide broadcast media opportunities through the Pennsylvania Cable Network, Pennsylvania Newsmakers, Behind the Headlines and other public affairs venues.
- Capitalizing on catastrophic bridge and highway failures, such as the Washington County incident, the near-collapse of the Birmingham Bridge in Pittsburgh and the emergency closing of I-95 in Philadelphia for several days.
- Ramping up grassroots support via letters, e-mails, faxes, phone calls and face-to-face meetings between elected officials and their constituents.
- Use of targeted ads and social media networks.
The Coalition remains active, most recently turning its attention to Washington in an effort to encourage federal lawmakers to do their part to fund our national transportation system.