Pennsylvania House delivers big blow to transportation funding deal

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 11/19/2013

A push to get a major transportation spending plan through the Pennsylvania House has been dealt a big blow.

House lawmakers voted 103-98 on Monday, Nov. 18, against a bill to raise billions of dollars for roads, bridges and transit. Failure to get a deal done could derail any funding solution for more than a year.

One of the top priorities of Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration, a plan to address a $3.5 billion transportation funding shortfall has struggled to win over lawmakers.

Senate lawmakers voted 45-5 to approve a bill earlier this year that would raise $2.5 billion by eliminating a cap on the oil company franchise tax. The move could increase the per-gallon tax on fuel more than 28 cents over five years because the companies are expected to pass along much of the increase to consumers.

Since 1983, the tax is applied only to the first $1.25 per gallon of the wholesale price.

Eliminating the cap on fuel prices now exceeding $3 per gallon would go a long way to help the state raise about $1.8 billion annually for roads and bridges once the cap is completely lifted. About $510 million would be applied to other modes of transportation.

Earlier in the day Gov. Corbett held a rally at the Capitol calling for lawmakers to get a transportation deal done.

“I urge the entire Legislature to vote for this nonpartisan, non-Democrat, non-Republican, non-labor, non-business commonsense bill for the people of Pennsylvania” Corbett said while thumping his fist on a podium for emphasis.

The Republican governor appeared with former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell and Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch.

The House plan was a revised version of the Senate bill. The measure, HB106, called for raising $2.3 billion through tax and fee increases.

The main part of the proposal sought to end collection of the state’s 12-cent-per-gallon flat tax on fuel and replace it by lifting the cap on the oil company franchise tax. Vehicle fees would also have been increased over the next five years.

Some House Republicans said they were opposed to plans to raise taxes.

“Pennsylvanians simply cannot afford to continue paying more and more for government,” Rep. Brad Roae, R-Crawford, said in a news release. “Before going to taxpayers with their hand out for more money, lawmakers have a responsibility to ensure the money it already collects is sensibly being used.”

However, the bill’s biggest stumbling block appeared to be a change to the state’s prevailing wage laws on transportation work. The change would have increased the threshold on projects that require a set rate for contractors.

House Democrats offered a nearly identical version of the bill Monday without the prevailing wage provision, but it didn’t get a floor vote.

Leading lawmakers say another vote on transportation funding could come before the General Assembly breaks at the end of this week until early December. If they fail to get a deal done, a resolution on the issue could be delayed until after the 2014 fall elections.

Corbett said that failure to pass a transportation funding bill is an option the state cannot afford.

“I’ve heard a lot of people say, ‘Let’s just kick the can down the road.’ It’s pretty hard for a can to go down a road that’s broken.”

Any proposal that wins House support would still need approval by Senate lawmakers before it could advance to the governor’s desk.

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