By John Finnerty
A transportation plan authored by state House Republicans would spend almost $7 billion less in the first five years than a competing plan set forth by Republicans in the Senate.
An amendment spelling out the House version of the transportation plan will be added during a committee meeting today. House Republicans intend to roll out increases in an oil company franchise tax over 10 years instead of the five-year period proposed by the governor. The Senate bill raised the wholesale tax over three years, accelerating the increase in funding for roadwork.
Lifting the cap is a controversial but crucial component of all three plans because it generates most of the money needed for road and bridge repairs. Many rural lawmakers are hesitant to endorse the strategy because it’s expected to lead to an increase of at least 25 cents a gallon in the price of gas.
The House GOP transportation plan eventually would spend more than Gov. Tom Corbett had originally proposed, but by taking twice as long to get to the maximum spending, Democrats say the plan defers millions in investment.
In the first year, the House Republican measure would add $200 million in new spending on roads and brides, less than half the amount proposed by Corbett.
There are a couple other key differences in the House amendment compared to the original Senate bill on which it’s based. The House legislation adds a modest form of prevailing wage reform and eliminates a Senate bid to generate $300 million a year by adding special fees on moving violations.
“This is a more responsible plan,” said Stephen Miskin, spokesman for the House Republican caucus.
Republican Rep. Fred Keller of Union County, a proponent of prevailing wage reform, said the House transportation plan only undoes a fairly recent rule change regarding whether road maintenance work ought to be subjected to rules regarding worker pay on government projects.
“It’s not as much as we want,” Keller said. “But it’s a start.”
Keller added that he is not sure how the 10-year rollout spelled out by House Republicans would impact efforts to build a $558 million Thruway in his district.
“We were told that as long as PennDOT got as much funding as the governor’s plan, it would happen,” he said. “I would say that since we are getting the same amount, just over a longer period of time, that it would be the same. But I’m not sure. That’s a dialogue that has to happen.”
After 10 years, the House Republican measure would spend $1.9 billion a year, including almost $1.7 billion a year on roads and bridges. Corbett has proposed spending $1.1 billion a year on roads and bridges as part of $1.44 billion a year added to the state’s transportation spending. But the governor’s plan would hit full stride by 2017-18.
Democrats expressed outrage at the 11th hour changes and said that no Democrat will vote for the House plan in the transportation committee or in the full House.
“(House Republicans) are trying to blow it up,” said Democratic Rep. Mike Hanna of Clinton County.
Democratic Rep. Mike McGeehan of Philadelphia said the Senate version of transportation spending was supported by almost everyone and reflected the type of investment that had been recognized over three years of studying the issue.
“We now get an amount out of left field,” McGeehan said. “This is a radical departure.”
Democratic Rep. Mark Longietti of Mercer County sits on the transportation committee. Longietti didn’t receive any information about the House Republican amendment until Sunday evening.
Longietti said he wouldn’t have supported Senate Bill 1 and he certainly doesn’t support the House version of the legislation. Longietti said that he doesn’t believe his legislative district stands to benefit enough to justify supporting something that will increase gas prices.
Finnerty reports from Harrisburg for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc.’s Pennsylvania newspapers, including The Meadville Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.