House Speaker wants Route 1 commitment for gas tax support

By Amy Cherry 9:23am, February 14, 2014 - Updated 9:44am, February 14, 2014
Delaware Speaker of the House, Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth)
The state stands to lose federal match money for Route 1 safety improvements if a proposed hike in the gas tax doesn't pass.

WDEL's Amy Cherry reports.

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"If I had to vote today, it would be a no vote based on my district."

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That's House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf talking about Gov. Markell's proposal to hike the gas tax by 10 cents.

The Rehoboth Democrat says right now, the support, especially from the public, isn't there.

"Any time you say you're going to raise the tax, everybody says 'no!'" he explains.

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Other lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have also come out against the proposal to hike the gas tax, a difficult proposal to pass in an election year.

But Schwartzkopf says he can see both sides of the argument.

"We have seven million visitors come to just Rehoboth, Dewey, and the Midway areas. The majority of that $50 million raised by the gas tax would come from somebody who doesn't even live in this state," he said.

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Work on continuous stretches of sidewalk along Route 1 was supposed to start in March, but with a $40 million hole in the Transportation Trust Fund, that project will be delayed.

"Without any increases in revenue, we don't have the money for a 20 percent match on an 8- percent payout by the federal government. I would spend 20 percent any day of the week to get the other additional 80 percent given to us by the federal government," explains Schwartzkopf.

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If the gas tax proposal doesn't pass in the General Assembly, it's likely all of the Route 1 safety recommendations for overhead lighting and added crosswalks would also be severly delayed.

Schwartzkopf says he'd need to see money earmarked for Route 1 safety improvements in his district to support the gas tax hike.

"Before they'd ever get my yes vote, there better be a commitment to do Route 1," he said.

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Schwartzkopf says with most tax hikes, there's a learning curve. The gas tax hike proposal has only been on the table a few weeks, but right now the public is vehemently opposed.

"Until we have the $100 million for this year, it's not going to get done, and that's when people will understand, 'Oh if we want things done, we have to pay for 'em,'" he said.

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Listen to Delaware's Morning News on WDEL Monday to hear about an alternative to the gas tax hike.

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