This section is from the "The Subvention In The State Finances Of Pennsylvania" book, by Frederic B. Garver.
After the failure of the internal improvement system Pennsylvania ceased to build or to assist in building roads. There were occasional exceptions to this statement, as for instance when a number of bridges over important rivers had been destroyed. Under such circumstances the state sometimes aided the counties in replacing the structures. But no systematic assistance was rendered the local communities until 1903, when an act was passed providing for state and local co-operation in the construction and maintenance of permanent improved highways.
The movement for better roads had, however, developed more than ten years before that date. The agitation crystallized in 1891 into a bill for the complete reorganization of the method of administering and paying for the construction of highways.10 When this bill, which was drawn by a bi-partisan committee including members who were not in the legislature, came up for passage in the Senate it provided for state aid. The appropriation, which was to be divided among the townships according to the amount of money they had expended upon roads during the preceding year was to be used solely for permanent construction. *11 The bill required a contribution from the localities and left the administration of highways in the hands of local officers.
Many objections were raised against the bill. The method of distributing the subvention was attacked because it gave the richer townships, which, it was said, were already able to take care of themselves, relatively larger amounts in proportion to their needs than it gave the poorer communities. *12 In defense of distribution according to amount of taxes spent locally upon roads it was asserted that the expenditure of the various townships upon roads in previous years measured the burden of road maintenance and that the state should assist those communities in which the burden was greatest. Moreover this method of distribution was defended on the ground that the subvention should be based on the principle of assisting those communities that gave evidence of interest in highway improvement by willingness to levy taxes. Otherwise the subvention might become a charitable donation. *13
10 See Statement of Mr. Shilleto in House of Representatives, 25 March, 1891, Legislative Record (1891), I, p. 1084. See also statements made in debate by various members, idem, pp. 969-984.
11 Legislative Record (1891), I, p. 754.
12 Statement by Mr. Hines in the Senate, 11 March, 1891, Legislative Record (1891), I, p. 756.
The counter-proposition to distribute the aid in accordance with mileage was also declared to be faulty because the exact mileage of roads was not determined, and because it would encourage useless building. *14 Requirements for local taxation were vigorously opposed by the farming communities. *15 One member of the legislature told of petitions received from his constituents protesting against the imposition of additional burdens. *16 The farmers of Lancaster County were especially opposed to the requirement of the bill that 25 per cent of the local tax should be expended on macadam construction. *17 Other objections were brought forward with respect to the lack of central supervision, the creation of a new local office (that of county engineer) and the expenditure of large sums upon highways likely to be of local benefit only. *18
It seems clear that the farming communities were anxious to have the subvention introduced if the state would furnish the larger part of the funds for construction and would allow the local governmental units to determine how they should be used. The bill was freely amended and then passed both houses only to receive Governor Pattison's veto.
In refusing to sign the bill the governor declared that the measure was of doubtful constitutionality because of the provision in the constitution prohibiting the legislature from making appropriations to communities. Moreover, in his judgment, the bill was inequitable, because it provided that moneys raised by taxation of the entire state should be expended for roads only in the several districts. *19 Thus ended the attempt to provide better roads by state aid, and for more than a decade the legislature took no action looking toward the construction of a system of highways.
13 Mr. Lloyd in the Senate, 12 March, 1891, Legislative Record (1891), I, pp. 822-823.
14 Idem, p. 822.
15 A Move for Better Roads, p. 282.
16 Mr. Kutz, in the House, 28 April, 1891, Legislative Record (1891), II, p. 1912.
17 Lancaster Morning News, 20 March, 1891.
18 Pittsburgh Dispatch, 29 April, 1891, p. 4; and 6 May, 1891, p. 4.
19 The veto message is printed in the Senate Journal (1891), pp. 1180-1181.
In 1903 the demand for improvement of the roads had again gathered sufficient force to result in the passage of an act providing for the cooperation of the state, the counties, and the townships in the construction and maintenance of permanent highways. This law established a state highway department in charge of a commissioner who was required to be an engineer and to have experience in road construction.20 The functions of the commissioner were, in general, to make surveys, to give estimates of the cost of roads, and to let the contracts for road improvements. State aid was distributed among the counties in proportion to road mileage, the state bearing two-thirds21 of the cost and the county and township the remaining one-third.
This law proved to be unsatisfactory and unworkable in practice, Very little road was built under its provisions, and the next General Assembly passed a new act, which superseded that of 1903. The law of 1905 increased the proportion of the cost of construction to be borne by the state to 75 per cent. *22 In 1907 the act of 1905 was amended by increasing the personnel of the state highway department and by greatly augmenting its powers. *23