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November 20, 2013 | By | Posted in Legislature

Transportation funding bill back on track after Tuesday night U-Turn; here’s what comes next

By Eric Boehm | PA Independent

The Pennsylvania House pulled a U-turn on Tuesday night, setting the $2.3-billion transportation package back on course.

After twice voting down the proposal on Monday night, seven members of the state House flipped their votes from “no” on Monday to “yes” on Tuesday to approve the amendment with a 104-95 vote. On Wednesday, the action will turn back to the Pennsylvania Senate, as senators plan to convene and approve an identical bill, which could be on its way to the state House by Wednesday night.

OPEN ROAD: Transportation funding is moving forward in Harrisburg, leaving the state's drivers with potentially higher taxes and fees to pay.

OPEN ROAD: Transportation funding is moving forward in Harrisburg, leaving the state’s drivers with potentially higher taxes and fees to pay.

It’s all quite convoluted, but the bottom line is this: the transportation funding plan that has been the cornerstone of Gov. Tom Corbett’s fall legislative agenda is heading towards his desk at last.

And that means a hike gasoline tax increase and an increase in higher vehicle and drivers’ license fees — which together form the backbone of the funding for the plan — soon could be a reality for Pennsylvania drivers.

“Today, the House of Representatives made a dramatic choice to invest in the future of Pennsylvania. In doing so, they have set the stage for the safety of our children and the economic prosperity for Pennsylvania,” Corbett said in a Tuesday night statement after the House vote.

But that vote was really just a test to make sure the lower chamber could cobble together the necessary votes for the bill. There was good reason for concern, after the House failed to muster the support for transportation in June and then came up short again on Monday.

Now, the state Senate plans to advance an identical proposal on Wednesday, setting up a final vote in the state House that could come as early as Wednesday evening.

Erik Arneson, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, said the senator “is very optimistic that this transportation funding package will be on the governor’s desk soon, that he will sign it, and that Pennsylvania can start to address its deteriorating bridges, highways and roads.”

The House bill would spend about $1.3 billion on roads and bridges, with about $500 million earmarked for mass transit operations. The rest of the package would fund road maintenance, the Pennsylvania Turnpike and a new multimodal fund aimed at the state’s ports and train lines.

But nearly all those dollars come from the pockets of Pennsylvania drivers, which has rankled some conservatives.

State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, who has crossed swords with Corbett all summer long over the transportation plan, said the bill would give Pennsylvania the highest gasoline taxes in the country. He called on residents of the state to contact their senators and representatives on Wednesday in an effort to put the brakes on the tax increases attached to the transportation plan.

Conservative groups also spoke out against the proposed tax hike.

“Pennsylvania families are forced to prioritize their spending to take care of their needs instead of their wants. Unfortunately, members of the General Assembly do not feel the need to take the same steps and taxpayers pay the price for that unwillingness,” said Leo Knepper, executive director of the Citizens Alliance for Pennsylvania, a group that funds conservative candidates.

The transportation bill will require at least three more votes before it reaches Corbett’s desk — two in the state Senate and one in the state House, if the current plan holds up — but for the first time it looks like it has a clear road ahead.

Lawmakers who voted “no” on transportation bill on Monday, “yes” on Tuesday:

  • State Rep. Karen Boback, R-Luzerne
  • State Rep. Seth Grove, R-York
  • State Rep. Mark Keller, R-Franklin
  • State Rep. Stan Saylor, R-York
  • State Rep. Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster
  • State Rep. Michael Peifer, R-Monroe
  • State Rep. Nick Kotik, D-Allegheny

Boehm is a reporter for PA Independent and can be reached at Eric@PAIndependent.com. Follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.

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Eric Boehm is a reporter for PA Independent. He can be reached at Eric@PAIndependent.com or at (717) 350-0963.

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