Republican Central District Public Service Commissioner Dick Hall told Philadelphia Rotarians on Monday that an increase in the state's gasoline tax was necessary to fund new highway construction, including the completion of the Mississippi 19 south four-laning project from House to Philadelphia.

Without the tax increase, Hall said MDOT would have to use money targeted for new construction like Mississippi 19 to preserve the state's transportation system currently in place.

"Unfortunately, the poster child for the kind of project this is going to hurt is finishing 19 from House to Philadelphia," he said.

"We are going to be ready to build that project but we don't have $50 million to finish it."

Hall told Rotarians that the state legislature made two major errors when it increased the gas tax to 18 cents in 1987 to fund new construction.

"There was no provision for maintaining what we were going to build and we set the tax rate at a flat 18 cents per gallon instead of making it a percentage," Hall said.

There has not been a tax increase since that time, he said, noting that the cost of highway construction had gone up 300 percent during that period.

"You are dealing with 1987 revenues trying to deal with 2013 costs and it doesn't fit any way you try it," he said.

As a result of the 1987 Highway Program, the state Department of Transportation spent $4 billion in tax money to build over 1,000 miles of new four-lane highways.

"It worked," Hall said. "It's paid for and not another state can make that claim. "But, what prudent business person would go out and make a major capital investment like that and not maintain it? It would be shear stupidity."

Because of that, Hall said, preservation of the state's transportation system is becoming MDOT's number one priority.

He said shifting transporatation funds from new construction to preservation of highways and bridges was the only logical, sensible way to manage the resoures.

"The budget we presented to the Legislative Budget Committee last week shows that," he said.

Hall told Rotarians that a one-cent increase in the gasoline tax would bring approximately $22 million a year into the state Highway Trust Fund.

"Ten cents would bring $220 million, which is starting to get in the range we need to deal with this problem," he said.

A person who drives a vehicle 12,000 miles a year, getting 20 miles to a gallon of gas, would see his gas tax go up $6 a year with a one-cent tax increase.

A 10-cent increase would cost that driver $60 a year, Hall said.

Hall urged support for the tax increase.

"Our economy runs on our transportation system," he said.

The first thing an industrial prospect wants to know when looking at an area is "how am I going to get my raw materials in there and my finished products out," Hall said.

"Nissan and Toyota wouldn't have looked at us 20 years ago before we built those four-lane highways."