State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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Transportation plan hits the skids in the House

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Jun 29, 2013 11:59 PM

Photo by Mary Wilson / witf

The bottom has fallen out of a deal to pass a roughly $2 billion transportation funding plan, with the GOP-controlled state House finding itself in the unusual position of needing Democratic votes.

The big question for the proposal has been its chances in a chamber where many Republicans have forsworn voting for it because it would increase gas taxes and Democrats have expressed concern it contains too little funding, especially for mass transit.

On Saturday evening, it became clear that House Democrats were doing more than expressing concern: they were "fairly united" in their opposition to the bill, said Rep. Dave Reed (R-Indiana), who has been working on the GOP's vote count on transportation. He insisted the Republicans have a majority of their 111-member caucus committed to supporting the bill (he would not share that number with reporters). Without Democratic votes, the GOP, which has a 19-member majority in the House, said they can't pass the plan.

Rep. Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery), also working the vote count detail, painted Democrats as pure obstructionists. He said both parties in the House had an "understanding" any transportation bill would need bipartisan support, but Democrats now think they can renege.

"They're not paid to think," said Vereb. "They're paid to stick to their word. And they haven't done it once."

House Democratic spokesman Bill Patton said otherwise.

"There was never an 'understanding,' no promises were made," he wrote in an e-mail. He said the plan before House lawmakers has been so downsized from the Senate's $2.5 billion proposal that it won't fix Pennsylvania's ailing roads, bridges, and mass transit.

"The Senate passed a bill that had substantially higher funding levels for all of those components," Patton said. "This House bill that exists right now is far short of the mark."

The stalled transportation bill means an alcohol sales overhaul is in jeopardy. The Senate GOP gave initial approval to a plan that would move the state toward privatization, but they were only able to muster the vote because of a widely-held belief that House Republicans won't pass a transportation bill if they don't get a liquor privatization plan. Liquor is the House GOP's pet issue, while transportation funding is a top priority for the Senate GOP.

The one thing that appeared settled by Saturday night is a nearly $28.4 billion budget, which has cleared a key Senate committee. Legislative leaders say it'll be done by midnight June 30.

House Majority Leader Mike Turzai said he expects his chamber to finish up other budget-related bills on Monday, and maybe Tuesday - after the June 30 deadline. Some legislative leaders suggest that, yes, technically, that would make the state budget late.

Democratic senators said the committee-approved $28.375 spending plan contains too little money for schools and other agencies, but lawmakers say it has the approval of House and Senate leaders and the Corbett administration. No one is expecting major changes.


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