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Senate committee passes $2.5 billion bill for roads, bridges and transit

| Tuesday, May 7, 2013, 11:15 a.m.

HARRISBURG — The Senate Transportation Committee on Tuesday “took a big step in the right direction” in approving a $2.5 billion annual revenue bill, the chairman said.

It is aimed at improving the state's highways and bridges. The legislation would provide money to the state's transit systems.

With bipartisan support, the bill passed the committee, 13-1.

“We want to see transportation on the front burner” as the General Assembly completes the final two months of session before summer recess, said committee Chairman John Rafferty, R-Montgomery County, who has 28 co-sponsors for the bill.

The bill would uncap the so-called oil company franchise tax on the wholesale price of gasoline, increase driver's license and registration fees and add a $100 surcharge to fines for traffic violations.

Rafferty said he will wait a few days before sending the bill to the Senate Appropriations Committee. He said he hopes a full Senate vote will happen in early June.

It's not clear whether the Republican-controlled House will support the legislation.

“We'll take a look at what the Senate produces before we comment on what we will do,” said House Republican spokesman Stephen Miskin.

The lone vote against the bill was made by Sen. Richard Kasunic, a Dunbar Democrat. He did not comment at the meeting.

“This is maybe the most important piece of legislation we've considered in several years,” said state Sen. Don White, R-Indiana County, citing public safety as the state's top responsibility.

“We're not doing it because we want to do it,” said Sen. John Wozniak of Johnstown, the ranking Democrat on the committee. “We're doing it because we have to do it.”

Unwillingness to support the bill indicates lack of “political courage,” Wozniak charged.

Yet Rafferty acknowledged: “This is not an easy lift for some people.”

Gas tax money cannot be used for transit. The traffic violation surcharges would help transit, Rafferty said.

The bill contemplates a gradual shift of some Pennsylvania Turnpike revenue for state roads to public transit, he said.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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