The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

June 25, 2013

House GOP puts brakes on transportation plan

By John Finnerty
The Daily Item

HARRISBURG — A transportation plan written by state House Republicans would spend almost $7 billion less in the first five years than a competing plan put forth by Republicans in the Senate.

An amendment spelling out the House version of the transportation plan will be added during a committee meeting today. House Republicans intend to roll out increases in an oil company franchise tax over 10 years instead of the five-year period proposed by the governor. The Senate bill raised the wholesale tax over three years, accelerating the increase in funding for roadwork.

Lifting the cap is a controversial but crucial component of all three plans because it generates most of the money needed for road and bridge repairs. Many rural lawmakers are hesitant to endorse the strategy because it’s expected to lead to an increase of at least 25 cents a gallon in the price of gas.

The House GOP transportation plan eventually would spend more than Gov. Tom Corbett had originally proposed, but by taking twice as long to get to the maximum spending, Democrats say the plan defers millions in investment.

In the first year, the House Republican measure would add only $200 million in new spending on roads and bridges, less than half the amount proposed by Corbett.

There are a couple other key differences in the House amendment compared to the original Senate bill on which it’s based. The House legislation adds a modest form of prevailing wage reform and eliminates a Senate bid to generates $300 million a year by adding special fees on moving violations.

“This is a more responsible plan,” said Stephen Miskin, spokesman for the House Republican caucus.

Rep. Fred Keller, R-85 of Kreamer, a proponent of prevailing wage reform, said the House transportation plan only undoes a fairly recent rule change regarding whether road maintenance work ought to be subjected to rules regarding worker pay on government projects.

“It’s not as much as we want,” Keller said. “But it’s a start.”

Keller added that he is not sure how the 10-year rollout spelled out by House Republicans would impact efforts to build a $558 million thruway in his district.

“We were told that as long as PennDOT got as much funding as the governor’s plan, it would happen,” he said. “I would say that since we are getting the same amount, just over a longer period of time, that it would be the same. But I’m not sure. That’s a dialogue that has to happen.”

After 10 years, the House Republican measure would spend $1.9 billion a year, including almost $1.7 billion a year on roads and bridges. Corbett has proposed spending $1.1 billion a year on roads and bridges as part of a $1.44 billion a year added to the state’s transportation spending. But the governor’s plan would hit full stride by 2017-18.

Democrats expressed outrage at the 11th hour changes and said that no Democrat will vote for the House plan in the transportation committee or in the full House.

“(House Republicans) are trying to blow it up,” said Rep. Mike Hanna, D-Clinton County.

Rep. Mike McGeehan, D-Philadelphia, said that the Senate version of transportation spending was supported by almost everyone and reflected the type of investment that had been recognized over three years of studying the issue.

 “We now get an amount out of left field,” McGeehan said. “This is a radical departure.”