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June 5, 2013 | By | Posted in WatchBlog

WATCHBLOG: Senate passes $2.5B transportation funding package

By Melissa Daniels | PA Independent

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania is on the road to improvements to transportation infrastructure as well as higher driver’s fees after a 45-5 vote in the state Senate Wednesday.

PAVING PENNSYLVANIA: The Senate passed a major transportation funding bill on Tuesday, June 5.

PAVING PENNSYLVANIA: The Senate passed a major transportation funding bill on Tuesday, June 5.

The vote on Senate Bill 1, championed by Senate Transportation Chairman John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, happened after about an hour of comments from senators on both sides of aisle.

The bill will create $2.5 billion in new spending for Pennsylvania’s roads and bridges, as well as mass transit, rail, port and air infrastructure statewide. Funding comes from uncapping the oil franchise tax paid on the wholesale price of gasoline, and increased fees for licenses, registration and documents at the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

Rafferty said the legidslation addresses “a core function of government” by providing for safe infrastructure discussed the boon the legislation could bring to Pennsylvania’s municipalities, who’ve long struggled to repair roads and bridges.

“This’ll give them the money they needed and give us the genesis to begin the economic recovery here in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Rafferty said.

He also cited the tens of thousands of construction jobs the investment would bring, jobs that have otherwise gone to Maryland and Virginia where transportation funding has recently been increased.

There was more than one instance of bipartisan congratulations, like when Senate Transportation Minority Chairman John Wozniak, D-Cambria, cited Gov. Tom Corbett’s leadership on this issue.

“Without the support of the governor, we would not be here in this snapshot in history,” Wozniak said.

But the vote also saw a fair degree of hedging, something of a precursor to the opposition the legislation will receive in the House of Representatives.

Before voting in favor of the bill, Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Allegheny, prefaced his affirmative vote with various concerns. He questioned putting the $2.5 billion annual price tag on the backs of working taxpayers and not corporations, or increased taxes paid by Marcellus Shale drilling companies.

“If nothing I think that could be used for this important capital initiative program,” Ferlo said.

Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton, explained why she was voting no on the bill, but not because she doesn’t see the need to fund infrastructure. Boscola said Route 22, a major thoroughfare in her district, needs widening to accommodate increased traffic, and she’s not sure what the House will do to the bill.

“Not knowing what that pot will be is making it very difficult for me in Lehigh Valley to vote for this,” she said.

Other lawmakers who voted no included Sen. Scott Hutchinson, R-Venango; Sen. Richard Kasunic, D-Fayette; Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia and Sen. Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland.

Contact Melissa Daniels at melissa@paindependent.com

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Melissa Daniels is a reporter for PA Independent. She can be reached at 717-350-0962 or Melissa@PAIndependent.com

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