State House approves $2.3 billion transportation package
HARRISBURG — Less than 24 hours after defeating a comprehensive transportation plan, the state House on Tuesday approved the $2.3 billion package for fixing Pennsylvania's deteriorating bridges and roads.
The same plan was voted down twice Monday night, once by as much as 112-89. But after a day of intense lobbying, the package that will raise gas taxes at the pumps passed 104-95.
The amendment by House Transportation Chairman Nicholas Micozzi, R-Delaware County, would spend $1.65 billion per year for highways and bridges, and as much as $497 million for mass transit.
It relies primarily on increasing wholesale gas taxes that Micozzi said would be passed on to consumers at a cost of about a nickel per gallon over five years. It would increase vehicle registration and driver's license fees.
Republican Gov. Tom Corbett pushed the package as a “core function” of government for safe travel and to establish jobs. He said the “House of Representatives made a dramatic choice to invest in the future of Pennsylvania. In doing so, they have set the stage for the safety of our children and the economic prosperity for Pennsylvania.
“Voting for a comprehensive transportation plan will keep our transportation system safe and efficient, improve the state's economy, and improve the quality of life for our 12 million-plus residents,” the governor said.
But Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, an opponent, said after defeating it twice, “We're here to take the taxpayers to the cleaners.”
Rep. Tim Krieger, R-Delmont, asked rhetorically, “What if we don't get the ‘right' decision again, will we be asked to vote it the fourth time?
“This has not been a fair fight,” he said.
Voters will see it was pushed through after twice being defeated, he said.
The outlook was positive for Senate approval. The Senate approved a $2.5 billion bill in June.
“We congratulate the House for taking this important step,” Senate Republican spokesman Erik Arneson said. “(Wednesday) morning, we will caucus on what was approved by the House tonight and proceed from there. That said, what the House approved appears to be fairly close to what a strong bipartisan majority of the Senate approved in Senate Bill 1.”
Under House rules, the bill containing the Micozzi amendment cannot be approved before Wednesday. Then it would go the Senate.
But to speed things along, the Senate may insert identical language into a bill that can go back to the House for a straight up or down vote.
“Ideally, we get this done this week,” PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch said.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald earlier Tuesday said failure to pass a bill with transit funding would result in reducing routes for Port Authority in 2014, just as job growth revitalizes the region. “If we don't have transit funding, we'll lose that momentum,” he said in an interview.
Fitzgerald, a Democrat, appealed to lawmakers from both parties, who were divided as the House defeated a key transportation amendment late Monday.
Among the lawmakers who switched from a “no” vote to a “yes” vote: Rep. Nick Kotik, D-Coraopolis. He could not be reached.
Port Authority of Allegheny County gets about a 22 percent share of the statewide funding for transit.
“This is a vote for your constituents to get to and from work,” Fitzgerald told those who voted no.
Without transit funding, “We put at risk our local economy and the dynamism really occurring in Pittsburgh again,” he said.
But Rep. Kathy Rapp, R-Warren County, said the state already spends $6.8 billion on transportation, She said she has constituents who drive long distances to work and can't afford the gas now, plus put food on the table,
“It took three votes and a lot of disregard for the middle class to move the legislation forward and the commonwealth backward,” said Rep. Pete Daley, D-Washington County.
In an effort to garner support among conservative Republicans, the measure contains language that takes a step toward reform of prevailing wage laws. Currently, state and local governments, particularly in urban areas, must pay union wages on non-union jobs on public projects. The current law extends an exemption to small projects under $25,000. That threshold would be raised to $100,000 under the Micozzie amendment.
Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.