State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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From House GOP, a prevailing effort to revive transportation talks

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Oct 2, 2013 6:03 PM

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Negotiations over a transportation funding plan are alive in the state House - for now.

Republican House Speaker Sam Smith, working through the head of PennDOT, has floated the idea to labor unions that the only way to resurrect a multi-billion dollar plan to fix transportation infrastructure is to make changes to the state's prevailing wage law.

Such a move would, put simply, reduce what public works projects pay for road construction and maintenance projects. In the past, labor unions have bitterly opposed prevailing wage changes.

This has been tried before. In the spring, House Republicans repeatedly asked to include such changes in a transportation funding bill. PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch, on behalf of the Corbett administration, repeatedly said he didn't want to tie the two issues together into one bill.

But Smith said Wednesday that if unions can make some concessions, more Republicans can support a bill that raises a gas tax and motorist fees to generate money for roads, bridges, mass transit, and more. Prevailing wage, he said, is a "third rail" to labor groups, and a "holy grail" for the House GOP.

If the unions can't make concessions, Smith said, transportation negotiations really will be dead until after the 2014 election.

Talk of revived negotiations comes as House Majority Leader Turzai said he would postpone by two weeks any potential vote on a transportation bill.

"I do know that they are having some discussions," Turzai said. He added the postponement came at the behest of Gov. Corbett, who made transportation one of his top legislative priorities in the spring.

But sources say the real push is coming from Senate Republicans. They passed a $2.5 billion bill to fund transportation earlier this year. A House committee scaled the plan back to a final spend figure of roughly $2 billion. That plan then stalled in the full House. It had too few Republicans on board because of proposed tax and fee increases. It had the support of too few Democrats because it did too little for mass transit, and, they said, they had been shut out of negotiations until they were needed to put up votes.


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