State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

On third go, House green-lights transportation plan

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Nov 19, 2013 8:50 PM
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Photo by Mary Wilson / witf

GOP House Speaker Sam Smith returns to his office Tuesday evening after the House voted to approve an amendment to generate $2.3 billion a year for transportation infrastructure.


A $2.3 billion amendment to a transportation funding plan passed a preliminary vote in the state House Tuesday night. Approval came within 24 hours of the House's rejection of the same measure, twice, amid concerns from tax-wary Republicans and labor-allied Democrats. The vote was 104-95, though two Republicans who missed the final tally asked that their affirmative votes be noted in the record.

The move marked a success for the Corbett administration, which lobbied heavily, along with business and labor groups, to raise money to maintain and fix ailing roads, bridges, mass transit, and other types of transportation infrastructure. Eight votes made the difference on Tuesday, a day in which GOP legislative leaders met with the governor after his return from Gettysburg Dedication Day ceremonies commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. Lobbyists and aides milled in the Capitol's hallways, biding time in between meetings and closed-door caucus discussions.

What turned eight nays to yeas? The Republican House speaker says it was an aversion to being compared to Congress because of apparent dysfunction.

"Members just felt that it was more important to differentiate ourselves from Washington, D.C. and get something done in this town," said Smith. "I truly think that was a factor."

PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch said he thinks some House members were truly surprised and disappointed the plan didn't pass the first two times it was voted on.

"Today they had very serious discussions about how they can get some of these votes of people that frankly, I think went into it thinking that they didn't have to vote for it, that others would," Schoch said. "And some of them had to realize that they were the others."

Six Republicans and two Democrats switched their votes within one day.

Rep. Seth Grove (R-York) said he changed his vote after being reassured the bill would keep changes to reduce laborers' pay on smaller public works projects, and that the Senate would further amend the measure to reduce the Pennsylvania Turnpike's current borrowing load. One House GOP aide suggested that deal had yet to be sewed up.

Smith did not rule out the possibility that House members were wooed by changed to what transportation projects get done when.

"I think that the secretary of transportation has some leeway in terms of prioritizing certain projects," Smith said. "It's possible the secretary might have agreed to move up the timeline of a particular project or a bridge."

Schoch said the agency has limited flexibility to change the starting date of transportation projects, but he can defer to lawmakers if they would like to rejigger priorities.

"Some of them have said yes, I'd like projects that were currently planned in year six to be in year two," Schoch said. But he insists it's "been a discussion all along that we've been having with the legislators."

The amended measure still must go to the Senate, receive a vote there, and get a final vote in the House. Senate Republicans are expected to discuss the measure Wednesday morning and "proceed from there," said Senate GOP spokesman Erik Arneson.

Schoch said he hopes the measure lands on the governor's desk this week.

Members who switched from nay to yea:

Karen Boback (R-Luzerne)
Seth Grove (R-York)
Mark Keller (R-Perry)
Michael Peifer (R-Wayne)
Stan Saylor, House GOP Whip (R-York)
Will Tallman (R-Adams)
Nick Kotik (D-Allegheny)
Mike Sturla (D-Lancaster)

The amended measure would generate between $2.3 billion and $2.4 billion annually for transportation funding after five years. The figure includes about $1.6 billion for highways and bridges, and nearly $500 million for mass transit.

Where the money comes from, per House legislative leaders:
- uncapping a tax paid by gas stations expected to jack up gas prices at the pump
- higher vehicle registration and license fees that would be phased in
- higher surcharges on certain moving violations

The measure also includes changes to the state's law setting wages on certain smaller public works projects, effectively reducing laborers' pay for roadwork projects priced at less than $100,000 dollars.


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