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Pennsylvania s transportation funding debate hit another roadblock Monday when the state House of Representatives voted down a package that would have routed .4 billion into highway, bridge and mass transit funding.Pennsylvania state CapitolThe Patriot-News
The plan, heavily backed by Gov. Tom Corbett and state business interests, fell three votes short for passage of an amendment, losing on a ticket-splitting, 98-103 vote.
The Republican majority broke for the plan, reluctantly brokered this fall by House Speaker Sam Smith, R-Jefferson County, 59-51. But Democrats broke against it 39-52.
Within 15 minutes, supporters of the plan called for a reconsideration vote, but the margin of failure only widened, with the plan failing 89-112 the second time around.
It was not immediately clear what the next step will be inwhich could resume as early as Tuesday but might require a cooling off period.
Corbett did not publicly react to the vote Monday night.
But a disappointed and dispirited state Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch forecast that without the cash booster shot there will be only mass transit service cuts and unimproved roads in Pennsylvania's future.
"It's incredibly unfortunate, but it's the businesses and the people of Pennsylvania who are going to suffer from this lack of action," Schoch said.
The House's electronic vote board was initially at 101-100 in favor, technically enough to pass the amendment. But House leaders said they were pushing for 102 to show the Senate they could reach the final passage figure.
After several minutes of waiting, some Republican members started to switch away, and Smith locked the count at 98-103.
Schoch saved his sharpest words Monday night for those 100 'no' voters - in both parties - who refused to be the 102nd 'yes' vote when they had the chance.
"One hundred members decided this wasn't important enough to vote for, and that's shocking, having listened to the rhetoric from members of both parties saying how important this was to get this done and demanding for the first year-and-a-half of this administration that the governor take action.
"The governor took action," Schoch continued, "and the House of Representatives collectively did not deliver."
Monday night s vote followed an unusual debate where union-allied Democrats sided with fiscal hawk Republicans, and the majority leadership itself was split with Smith voting yes and House Majority Leader Mike Turzai of Allegheny County voting no.
Democrat opponents argued that the bill asked them for too many compromises the most onerous of which was
Rep. Stephen McCarter, a Democrat from Montgomery County, said it was impossible for him to agree to a bill that draws its funds from working people, but also contained language that he asserted worked to erode their salaries.
Too many members of the House s Republican majority, meanwhile, and said the proposed prevailing wage change didn't offer them enough in return.
Noting the plan would put Pennsylvania on a trajectory to have the highest fuel taxes in the nation when fully implemented by 2017, Rep. Stephen Bloom, R-Carlisle, said it's too much in a state that already spends .8 billion per year on transportation services.
This would cost our motorists more every time they fill up their vehicle, Bloom said. I would ask that we not bow to the special interests that are demanding that we pass this amendment tonight, and stand up for the Pennsylvania taxpayers instead.
Supporters of the .4 billion plan were just as passionate.
Rep. Jeff Pyle, a Republican from Armstrong County, called on his colleagues to support the bill because the state needs to quickly ramp up repair its thousands of structurally-deficient bridges.
I don t want to be the one (lawmaker) that hosts that bridge that s going to go down, because mark my words, there will be one that goes down Pyle warned.
Others asserted that the plan is precisely the kind of compromise that legislating is all about.
It is not a perfect bill, but very few of the bills we adopt in the Legislature are perfect bills, said Rep. Mark Cohen, a Philadelphia Democrat. It is something that moves us forward and solves urgent problems in our mass transit and highways and bridges.
Offered on the floor by House Transportation Committee Chairman Nick Micozzie, R-Delaware County, the plan would have generated an additional .8 billion for highway and bridge work, 0 million for public transit systems and nearly 0 million for improvements to other systems ranging from airports to bicycle paths.
The House debate started about 7:30 p.m., after hours of closed-door party caucuses earlier in the day that revealed sharp splits on both sides of the aisle.
It was not immediately clear where the transportation funding debate would go next.
House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny County, brought his lower-spending critical needs plan to the floor shortly after the first amendment's defeat, but its prospects looked dim with Democrats and many Republicans arguing that it didn t come close to meeting the state s needs.
Turzai pulled his bill shortly after 10:30 p.m., before it received a vote.
In fact, an industry and transit-heavy commission named by Corbett to evaluate the state's needs
Corbett initially proposed a plan costing about half that much, and the Republican-controlled state Senate endorsed a .5 billion plan earlier this year.
The House, where fiscal conservatives seem to wield more power in the majority caucus room, was dragged reluctantly into the debate this fall bySmith, who tried to cobble together a Republican majority for the bill by including a hike in the cost threshold needed to trigger the state s 52-year-old prevailing wage requirement.
That issue is a touchstone for many Republican lawmakers who believe it will help stretch infrastructure investment dollars further, and the ploy almost worked.
In the end, however, Monday's vote registered mainly as who had made a transportation package one of his top legislative priorities for the 2013-14 session.
Early Monday afternoon, Corbett gathered former Democrat Gov. Ed Rendell, his immediate predecessor, and other political and business leaders for a Capitol Rotunda rally that seemed to ooze optimism.
But that turned out to be the high-water mark for this complex issue.
One looming question for Tuesday was whether the House GOP leadership would permit a vote on a Democrat-backed amendment that is an exact copy of the Micozzie plan, but without the prevailing wage language.
That bill, sponsored by House Democratic Whip Mike Hanna, D-Clinton County, could likely receive more Democrat votes, but fewer from the GOP.
Smith, Schoch and others weren't prepared to answer that question Monday night.
"I am going back to the drawing to figure out what the options are," Smith said after Monday's session closed, "and right now I can't tell you what that is."
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