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Pa. House may vote on funding transport

October 20. 2013 7:43AM
Associated Press 

HARRISBURG — A state House vote on a major transportation funding package — its details being hammered out over the weekend — could come as soon as next week.

The bill is a major legislative goal of Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.

A $2.5 billion annual transportation funding package for roads, bridges and mass transit passed the Senate in June but never came to the House floor for a vote.

Next week could be now-or-never for any kind of deal to pass.

“I think next week is vital,” said Dave Thomas, chief counsel to the speaker of the House, speaking Friday. He said staffers from House Democratic and Republican caucuses would spend the weekend negotiating details of a $2.2 billion to $2.4 billion funding package.

House members will be in Harrisburg on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday; after that, they won’t return to the Capitol until Nov. 12.

On Thursday afternoon, Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch was standing in the doorway of House Speaker Sam Smith’s office.

“I think next week’s the target date for this to occur,” Mr. Schoch said, when questioned by a passing reporter. “If it doesn’t, you run out of days. So next week’s the key week.”

The $2.5 billion package for roads, bridges and mass transit passed by the Senate has the backing of a broad range of business and labor groups. The bill has been a tough sell in the House, however. It has been attacked by conservative Republicans as a tax increase, because it would raise revenues by removing a cap on a tax paid by gasoline suppliers, an increase that would likely be passed on to consumers at the pump.

House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, denounced the measure last month, saying it didn’t have his support.

Meanwhile, talks have been ongoing in recent weeks between some House Democratic and Republican leaders to cut a deal — in part by removing a surcharge for moving violations that accounts for about $100 million in revenue, and coming up with another source for the funds.

A spokesman for House Democrats, Bill Patton, said the two sides have had daily discussions this past week.

Also on the table: Some Republicans are demanding changes in the state’s prevailing wage law, which requires union-scale wages on publicly funded road maintenance projects.

Mr. Thomas said Friday those changes are still key to a deal.

Officials from the Pennsylvania State Building & Construction Trades Council and the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO could not be reached Friday; it’s unclear if labor unions would support any changes to the law.

Major details still remain to be determined, Mr. Thomas said, such as the exact amount of the funding, and how much money would go to fund mass transit systems, a major priority for House Democrats.

“The framework that we’re hearing is a bill that is north of $2.3 billion after a ramp-up of five years,” with at least $420 million in annual funding for mass transit, said Robert Latham, executive vice president of Associated Pennsylvania Constructors, the trade association for contractors, engineers, manufacturers and suppliers in the road-and-bridge construction industry.

Mr. Latham said he is encouraged by the involvement of House Speaker Sam Smith and Democratic leader Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont, in the talks, two leaders who weren’t involved in trying to work out a deal when the issue collapsed in the House in June.

“The total number [in funding] certainly matters,” said David Patti, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Business Council, which has pushed for the Senate version of the plan. “But so, too, do the components. How much of that is mass transit?”

Mr. Thomas said Friday, “I think we’ll be hitting a mass transit number that the transit agencies themselves are comfortable with.”

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