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Going nowhere: Two GOP-backed transportation bills fail House vote; Dem plan blocked

By   /   November 19, 2013  /   No Comments

By Eric Boehm | PA Independent

It was all sound and fury, signifying nothing Monday night in the state House.

A proposal to spend $2.3 billion by hiking gasoline taxes along with vehicle and driver registration fees narrowly failed a key vote, 103-98.  Gov. Tom Corbett, along with some unions, business groups and even former Gov. Ed Rendell stumped for the bill during the day Tuesday, but to no avail.

ROAD WORK: The House tried, and failed, to pass a transportation funding bill this week. The future of the legislation is now very much in doubt.

A second proposal, from House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, was withdrawn from the floor before a vote after it became clear it would not have enough support to pass. Turzai’s plan would have spent about $900 on the state’s most critically in-need-of-repair highways, bridges and mass transit systems.

The transportation debate has been the cornerstone of the fall legislative agenda, but it appears to be very much in jeopardy after Monday night’s votes. The state Senate passed, in a different measure, a $2.5 billion transportation bill in June by a 45-5 margin. But the state House has been unable to find a coalition to support any bill that has come to the floor.

Corbett said he was “extremely disappointed” in the outcome.

“The votes were driven by partisan politics rather than principle. The result is that the people of Pennsylvania will not have the transportation system that they expect and deserve,” Corbett said in a statement.

He seems to be at least partially right about the political divide in the vote. On the first vote — the one that came the closest to passing — 59 Republicans and 39 Democrats voted for the measure. The 51 Republicans and 52 Democrats who voted against it were generally from the respective right and left wings of the two parties, while the centrist members were in support.

Conservative Republicans voted against the bill to avoid being attacked for raising taxes, and because some genuinely do not think the state needs to spend billions on its highways and mass-transit systems.

Progressive Democrats opposed the bill for making changes to the state prevailing wage law, which promises a union pay scale for public projects even if non-union firms do the work. Unions opposed the Republican plan to raise the threshold for how much must be spent before a project qualifies for prevailing wage.

A third proposal, offered by state Rep. Mike Hanna, D-Centre, was not allowed to come up for a floor vote by Republican leaders.  Hanna’s proposal was identical to the Corbett-backed plan, except it lacked changes to the state’s prevailing wage law, which Republicans sought and unions opposed.

Some Republicans, including state Rep. Nick Micozzie, R-Delaware, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, voiced support for Hanna’s plan on the floor, but it is unclear whether the measure would have succeeded where the others failed.

Boehm can be reached at Eric@PAIndependent.com and follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.

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Eric Boehm