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Gov. Tom Corbett's hopes for a major legislative win came roaring back to life Tuesday, as the state House voted 104-95 to give key preliminary approval to a multi-pronged, .4 billion transportation funding program.
And now, it just might have too much momentum to be denied.
After two long days of lobbying by Corbett, State Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch, House Speaker Sam Smith and others, the plan's backers finally delivered a slim, but apparently solid majority for an amendment carrying major cash infusions for highway projects, bridge repairs and public transit needs.
The bill also carries
Corbett, in a statement, called the House vote a "dramatic choice to invest in the future of Pennsylvania. In doing so, they have set the stage for the safety of our children and the economic prosperity of Pennsylvania."
Just one night earlier,
But Tuesday's reversal not only wiped away Monday's frustrations; it set the stage for what supporters hope will be a series of rapid-fire votes that could get the bill to Corbett's desk this week.
The Senate, remember,
But no one was lighting victory cigars Tuesday night.
That's because the House plan contains a key change that has not passed muster in the state Senate yet:
The bill raises the cost threshold at which the law's minimum wage requirements kick in for transportation construction projects from an outdated ,000 at present, to 0,000 going forward.
It was Smith's price for a commitment to work for majority support in his caucus for such a big public works bill.
Republican and Democrat Senate leaders have cautioned in recent days that the proposed prevailing wage changes, which anger many unions, will force them to look at the entire package with fresh eyes.
But Schoch did not seem concerned that the reform would be a deal-breaker.
"Certainly the understanding is it will be this kind of bill, including prevailing wage reform, that comes back to the House" after the Senate begins consideration of the amendment language Wednesday, Schoch said.
Outside the Legislature, meanwhile, supporters of the funding package celebrated their comeback and the bill's newfound momentum.
Phil Ameris, the leader of a Pittsburgh union who endorsed the package even with the prevailing wage change because he saw it as the best way to boost long-term job prospects for his members, likened it to a contract negotiation.
"If you look at the bill, there's been concessions on the part of everybody," Ameris said.
"That's how we get things done."
And he added, he believes senators worried about the prevailing wage change will come to understand that many businesses and motorists have serious skin in this bill too, for what he considers the greater good.
The House's reversal -- keyed by seven members who switched from "no" to "yes" - took the funding issue from the legislative equivalent of life support to a point where it has its best chance yet for adoption.
Smith and Schoch said there was no gravy train running to get the extra votes Tuesday.
"I think both caucuses left last night (Monday) somewhat surprised and disappointed that they didn't get this done," he said. "And today they had very serious discussions in their caucus about how they can get some of these votes of people that, frankly, I think went into it thinking they didn't have to vote for it, that others would.
"Some of them had to realize they were the others."
But different members did cite some personal victories as helping to seal their decisions.
Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover, for example, was one of five Republicans to move from "no" to "yes" this week. He did, he said, because of assurances from Smith that the prevailing wage change will be in the final package.
Rep. Stan Saylor, R-Red Lion and the House Majority Whip, said he did not want to stand in the way of the creation of new lanes on Interstate 83 in York County, a project listed on PennDOT's
Rep. Patty Kim, D-Harrisburg, who voted yes on Monday and Tuesday, said her vote was secured by a commitment from Schoch for million in road maintenance funds to Harrisburg over the next five years.
The funding is part of the "Harrisburg Strong" fiscal recovery plan, but Kim said Schoch committed that it will happen.
Besides Grove and Saylor, other lawmakers who switched Tuesday were: Rep. Karen Boback, R-Luzerne County; Rep. Mark Keller, R-Landisburg; Rep. Nick Kotik, D-Allegheny County; Rep. Mike Peifer, R-Huntingdon County; and.Rep. Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster County.
Here's a glimpse at what the bill would fund statewide after a five-year ramp-up:Adds .8 billion in new funding annually for bridge repairs and replacements, and highway projects.Schoch noted the bill will result in an uptick in projects as early as next construction season, since his engineers have been building an inventory of projects in anticipation of the funding plan.Adds 0 million per year in new funding to public transit agencies -- with more than 90 percent of that funding going to the mass transit systems in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the state's two largest.Creates a 4 million annual funding stream for so-called "multi-modal" projects including everything from airports and railroads to bike paths or town-center pedestrian safety improvements.
Opponents continued to argue that it will require a basket of tax, fee and fine increases that will far outstrip any benefits to the average Pennsylvanian.
Rep. Carl Metzgar, R-Somerset County, said during Tuesday's debate that he asked constituents for feedback on the plan which keys on increases in a tax on wholesale fuel sales that experts have estimated will raise gas prices here by up to 28 cents per gallon over the next five years.
"They think we should make do with what we have and leave them alone," Metzgar said of his respondents.
"Who are you listening to?" he challenged his colleagues.
Rep. Brad Roae, R-Crawford County, argued there are many better ways to fund highway projects, such as gradually dedicating current sales tax revenues from all vehicle sales in Pennsylvania to highways and bridges.
Roae said that plan would raise .7 billion per year after 10 years.
But coming after two days of lengthy and sometimes turbulent caucus sessions, Tuesday's debate ended relatively quickly, as members seemed to arrive at the floor with their minds made up.
Erik Arneson, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware County, said the Senate will caucus on the latest version of the transportation bill Wednesday morning.
If a clear majority holds in favor of the bill, sources said, the Senate could take action before the end of the day.
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