Sunday, April 20, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Pa. House votes down transportation spending measure

HARRISBURG - After months of debate, the state House failed to pass legislation Monday night that would have provided $2.3 billion to complete long-overdue repairs to the state's aging transportation infrastructure.

In a stunning 103-98 vote that teetered between passage and defeat until the last moment of the roll call, lawmakers shot down an amendment to fix thousands of substandard bridges, repave hundreds of miles of crumbling roads, and pump hundreds of millions into modernizing mass transit systems across the state.

To pay for the improvements, the bill would have lifted the cap on the oil-franchise tax - which could increase prices at the gas pump by roughly 27 cents a gallon. The measure also would have increased driver's-license and vehicle-registration fees beginning in 2015, and put a surcharge on speeders and others who violate traffic laws.

Of the $2.3 billion to be raised by 2017-18, approximately $1.65 billion would have been dedicated to highways and bridges, and $476 million to $497 million to mass transit.

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  • The proposed amendment also contained a controversial change to prevailing-wage laws, increasing the threshold on projects that require a set rate for contractors.

    It was unclear late Monday what would happen to one of Gov. Corbett's signature legislative initiatives.

    The Senate overwhelmingly passed a similar transportation spending bill - minus the prevailing-wage provision - in the spring.

    During a two-hour House debate Monday night, some Republicans criticized the funding measure as raising taxes and spending too much on urban transit systems.

    "This is a $2.5 billion tax increase," said Rep. Brad Roae (R., Crawford). "We should cut back spending in other areas and fix the bridges and roads."

    Another opponent, Democrat Mary Jo Daley (D., Montgomery), called the prevailing-wage change an "attack on working families," saying it would lower wages for men and women in transportation construction work.

    Supporters called the bill a reasonable compromise that would create tens of thousands of jobs and address pressing transportation needs.

    "It is a compromise, something that moves us forward and solves urgent problems in urban transit and on highways and bridges of the commonwealth," said Rep. Mark Cohen (D., Phila.)

    "It's a do-or-die moment for comprehensive transportation funding," said Rep. Kate Harper (R., Montgomery). "It's been 15 years since we had a comprehensive transportation bill and we are long overdue."

    The vote came after months of closed-door negotiations in the GOP-led House, where many fiscal conservatives have been loath to raise taxes or fees.

    Without enough Republican votes, leaders knew they needed Democrats who - particularly in Philadelphia - were reluctant to vote against unions on the prevailing-wage provision.

    In a last-ditch push midday Monday, Corbett mobilized union leaders, among them Philadelphia Building Trades business manager Pat Gillespie, and others, including former Gov. Ed Rendell, to join him at a rally in the Capitol to urge passage of the bill.

    SEPTA Board Chairman Pasquale T. "Pat" Deon told rally attendees that the transit agency could not continue much longer with temporary fixes.

    Without the bill, he said, "we would have to shut down public transit in the Southeast in a short period of time."

    The amendment, by Rep. Nick Micozzie (R., Delaware), chairman of the Transportation Committee, would have increased the current prevailing-wage threshold on construction projects from $25,000 to $100,000 in 2014. Those limits would save local governments millions, but angered some union leaders who said it would drive down wages.

    The roll call vote can be found here.

     


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    Amy Worden Inquirer Harrisburg Bureau
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