Wednesday, November 20, 2013

PA House Reverses Course, Passes Transportation Funding

In a dramatic turnaround, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives has approved a $2.4 Billion transportation funding package, only a day after voting it down (good summary story here).  The bill passed the Senate in June by a bipartisan 45 – 5 vote, but has been hung up in the House, where anti-tax Republicans seemed content to let Pennsylvania lead the nation in structurally deficient bridges rather than increase any taxes or fees (sound familiar?).
Governor Tom Corbett, who’s approval ratings are underwater, didn’t shrink from the fight and pressed hard for the measure, including bringing in former governors Ed Rendell, Tom Ridge, and Mark Schweiker to speak for it.  PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch put together a “Decade of Investment” project list and posted weight limits on 1,000 bridges to dramatize the problem.
The politics got pretty crazy toward the end. The sweetener to get Republicans on board was an anti-labor provision that increases the exemption from state prevailing wage rules for projects from $25,000 to $100,000.  However, the sweetener for Republicans was also a poison pill for many Democrats. The cause appeared lost Monday night, when the House voted the bill down, but several Republicans were persuaded to switch by Tuesday, no doubt with interesting stories behind each switch.  In the end, the bill passed 104 – 95, with a small majority of Republicans voting aye and small majority of Democrats voting no.
Of course most transportation funding votes these days have complicated politics, the details of which vary from place to place and time to time.  The takeaway here, I think, is that bipartisan funding votes really are possible. 
The Pennsylvania bill (which I should point out still has more hurdles to get across) raises several taxes and fees, with the largest revenue coming from removing the cap on a wholesale fuels tax, which will effectively, in a few years, increase the motor fuels tax by about 25 cents per gallon.
The plan includes a robust increase in funding for transit and multi-modal programs (air, rail, bike/ped) and some structural reforms, but doesn’t go as far as many of us would like (my earlier comments here). 

I think we have to score this a big victory for transportation funding.

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