Pa. House GOP stance on road funding takes shape

Corbett pushes for more transportation money as Pa. House GOP leaders' stance takes shape

Associated Press

LEMOYNE, Pa. (AP) -- The bargaining position by House Republican leaders on a push to increase funding for Pennsylvania's highways, bridges and mass transit agencies is taking shape as their ally Gov. Tom Corbett presses for results over the coming month.

House Republican Whip Stan Saylor, R-York, said Thursday that passage of a bill to privatize the state liquor store system is crucial to some members before any vote on legislation that would raise wholesale fuel taxes and, possibly, the price of gas.

"There's a chunk of members in the House Republican caucus who are saying we want the liquor bill," Saylor said. "That is the trade-off for getting their vote on transportation. It's not that they don't want some transportation projects in their districts. They absolutely do, but they feel this is something critical for this state to move into the 21st century and that liquor bill does it for them."

House Transportation Committee Chairman Dick Hess, R-Bedford, said he is likely to support legislation that is smaller than a $2.5 billion bill that has solid support in the Republican-controlled Senate but bigger than a $1.8 billion plan that Corbett unveiled in January.

They spoke after appearing at a news conference with Corbett, who used a new bridge across Interstate 83 outside Harrisburg as the backdrop for his latest plea for more funding to shore up the state's transportation system. Repairs are needed on more than 20 percent of the state-maintained highways and nearly 20 percent of the state-owned bridges, according to the state Department of Transportation. Meanwhile, public transit agencies are facing deficits to maintain services.

Corbett is pressing for passage of a budget plan along with legislation that boosts transportation funding and liberalizes Pennsylvania's liquor and beer laws by June 30, when the Legislature traditionally wraps up business for the summer. Also on his wish list are changes to the public pension systems.

A liquor and beer bill that Corbett supports passed the House in March, but it is facing changes in the Senate, where many senators had little interest in navigating fights among companies that make, distribute and sell liquor, wine and beer.

In the House, Republican leaders have treated transportation funding legislation in much the same vein, avoiding taking any position on it before a Senate bill comes to them.

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, said Thursday he expects his bill to pass the Senate next week or the week after. It easily passed the Senate Transportation Committee on May 7.

The backbone of both the governor's plan and the Senate's are raising a tax that is imposed on the sale of fuel to gas stations. Democratic lawmakers strongly support the move as a way to boost the economy and road safety, but many House Republicans are uncomfortable with it.

Some say any transportation funding plan should include cost-saving measures such as shifting the operations of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to the state Department of Transportation and lifting prevailing wage requirements for municipal road projects.

"That's some of the things the House (Republican) members want," Saylor said. "That's where it's going to get into negotiations."

In the meantime, Corbett's transportation secretary, Barry Schoch, said he has been meeting with House lawmakers to show them which projects would be addressed in their districts if more money becomes available. He said he believes he has changed some House Republican minds.

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