Meadville Tribune

State News

October 10, 2013

Gas tax increase plan may go up for Pa. House vote next week

HARRISBURG — Here in the middle of harvest season, farmer Andy Flinchbaugh ought to be driving across a small York County bridge four times a day to deliver grain to feed mills.

But he can’t. The bridge is one of 1,000 that has been posted with a weight restriction by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation in the wake of the Legislature’s failure to pass a transportation funding plan.

Flinchbaugh has a 1,600 acre grain farm. The detours he must follow to get around the posted bridge double the length of his trip. What used to be a 15-mile run is now 30 miles, he said.

“I live in rural America,” Flinchbaugh said. “My roads may not be a priority (to state decision makers), but this (harvest season) is when time is of the essence.”

There may be relief ahead as House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny County, has signaled a House vote on the $2.5 billion transportation funding plan passed in the Senate could come as soon as next week.

The Senate plan, and the original proposal put forth by Gov. Tom Corbett, depends on lifting the cap on the wholesale Oil Company Franchise Tax to generate the additional money to fund the plan. Most analysts believe that this increase will translate into a 25- to 28-cent-a-gallon increase in price at the pump for Pennsylvania drivers.

Significant hurdles remain.

Leaders believe there are around 70 lawmakers in the House who will support any transportation plan put up for a vote, Turzai’s spokesman, Stephen Miskin, said. Legislative leaders are struggling to find a compromise that will garner the 102 votes needed for the plan to pass.

Plans that spend more are less attractive to Republicans. And plans spending less are less attractive to Democrats.

“We’re looking for that sweet spot,” Miskin said.

One strategy that is picking up momentum involves tacking prevailing wage reforms onto the bill in a bid to coax Republican lawmakers to support the legislation despite its built-in increase in the gas tax. Republicans want road maintenance work exempted from the higher-wage rules and the threshold triggering prevailing wage increased.

Republican leaders in the House are jockeying to get some of the state’s labor unions to back the concessions on prevailing wage in exchange for the increased spending on road and bridge construction.

Democrats in the House would like to see transportation funding pass, said Bill Patton, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny County. But prevailing wage would be a “huge stumbling block,” Patton said.

Republicans might be able to entice a few union locals to endorse their plan, but most labor organizations will not budge on the prevailing wage issue, said Frank Sirriani, president of the Pennsylvania Building and Construction Trades Council.

The Building and Construction Trades Council was one of more than 70 union and business groups that signed a letter last month urging the House to approve the additional transportation funding.

Sirriani said the push to tack prevailing wage onto transportation funding is a bid to “ram through” the controversial pay measure by tying it to road funding.

Whether the plan includes prevailing wage or not, Corbett wants a transportation funding plan of some sort, a spokesman said.

“(The governor) is going to sign whatever transportation funding plan gets to his desk,” Corbett spokesman Steve Chizmar said. “We’ve kicked this transportation funding can down the road long enough. The time is now.”

John Finnerty works in the Harrisburg Bureau for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. He can be reached by email at jfinnerty@cnhi.com or on Twitter @cnhipa.

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