Pa. transportation funding bill in jeopardy

Posted: November 15, 2013

HARRISBURG After weeks of closed-door negotiations, Pennsylvania's legislative leaders agree on this much: If there is no vote by the middle of next week on a measure to provide billions of dollars in additional transportation funding, the bill is as good as dead.

"You can go back to planning the funeral," Speaker Sam Smith (R., Jefferson) said this week when asked what would happen if the House did not consider the issue before it breaks Wednesday for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware) put it this way: "It's time to bring this to a head. . . . If the votes aren't there in the House, it's time to move on to other issues."

Hanging in the balance is nearly $2.5 billion in additional funding for roads, bridges, and mass transit. Gov. Corbett has pushed hard over the last year for a transportation funding plan, but the issue has become a legislative quagmire.

The GOP-controlled Senate in June passed a $2.5 billion plan that, among other things, would uncap the tax levied on the wholesale price of gas. That tax is capped at $1.25 per gallon.

But Republicans in the GOP-controlled House have been less enthusiastic. They are concerned not just about the plan's price tag but about how the money is being raised. Some believe uncapping the tax on the wholesale price of gas will be passed on to motorists.

Over the last two months, Smith has tried to revive the bill's chances of passage in his chamber. It has not been an easy task.

The top Republican has said he cannot garner enough votes for the bill unless it contains a change to prevailing-wage laws for transportation projects. State-funded projects costing more than $25,000 require workers to be paid the prevailing wage in that county. That wage is set by the Department of Labor and Industry, and is generally tied to organized labor contracts.

Smith wants to raise the $25,000 threshold, a standard set more than 50 years ago. Democrats opposed that, and Smith would need Democratic votes to get the bill through the House.

Although all sides are continuing negotiations, no one sees an easy solution. The legislature breaks next week, and is not scheduled to return until early December. At that point, it will be in session for only two weeks and is unlikely to take up the issue.

And next year is an election year, when legislators typically avoid controversial subjects.


acouloumbis@phillynews.com

717-787-5934 @AngelasInk

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