Sunday, January 25, 2015

Democratic deja vu

Efforts in Harrisburg to pass a transportation bill that fixes roads and bridges and funds mass transit remains in limbo; but Democrats suggest an answer that's been answered before.

Democratic deja vu

Of the issues hanging fire in the PA Legislature as its leaders rush to meet a Sunday budget deadline, the one with real bipartisan support is a long-term, big-spending measure to repair state roads and bridges and better fund mass transit.

It's a bill everyone agrees needs to pass. It enhances public safety, creates new construction jobs and improves the state's transportation systems in ways that help attract new business.

So, naturally, there's no agreement on its specifics.

The Senate passed a version that would increase gas prices and vehicle fees and add $100 surcharges on moving violations to fund mass transit.

The House has said it doesn't like such surcharges, at least at that amount, wanted to end prevailing wage requirements on public projects and reduce funding for mass transit. And It generally has been delaying action while trying to convince tea party-type Republican members to vote for anything that increases any fees and/or taxes.

So now we have Democratic leaders offering an old/new idea that, in legislative terms, is the equivalent of settled law.

On Wednesday, Democratic Whip Mike Hanna of Clinton County and Democratic Caucus Chairman Dan Frankel of Allegheny County reached back in time to offer a proposal that's been offered for years and defeated for years -- a severance tax on natural gas.

Frankel said it would "fully-fund mass transit" and is a "logical tax that taxpayers would support." He also noted the natural gas industry contributes to the state's transportation woes by moving, for example, heavy drilling equipment over rural roads and bridges.

Hanna said Republcans need Democratic votes to pass any transportation bill and that a severance tax would "help tremendously" in securing support from the Democratic caucus.

Also, Frankel suggested it's a way for Gov. Corbett to avoid a loss on transportation: "He needs a transportation bill, we need a transportation bill."

The only problem here is that even if this is a good idea, it's going nowhere. In legislative politics, good ideas take back seat to what can actually pass.

The severance tax has been debated to death dating back to the Rendell administration. Republicans, who control both House and Senate, don't support it. Corbett repeatedly has opposed it. So one wonders why Democrats think an old and oft-rejected plan is now a viable option.

I offer this example of "work" in Harrisburg to help explain why "work" in Harrisburg so often has the same result.




John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
About this blog
John Baer has been covering politics and government for the Daily News since 1987. The National Journal in 2002 called Baer one of the country's top 10 political journalists outside Washington, saying Baer has, "the ability to take the skin off a politician without making it hurt too much." E-mail John at

John is the author of the book "On The Front Lines of Pennsylvania Politics: Twenty-Five Years of Keystone Reporting" (The History Press, 2012). Reach John at

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
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