The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Editorials

November 12, 2013

State legislators on road to nowhere with bill

JOHNSTOWN — Pennsylvania’s state legislators return to work today.

We sincerely hope that they can make some progress on the transportation bill that has been lingering for far too long. If it doesn’t get done by Nov. 20 it will be shifted to the next legislative session in mid-December. And if it doesn’t get passed then, well, who knows?

“The term won’t end until December of 2014,” Rep. Bryan Barbin, D-Johns-town, told our Dave Sutor last week. “The problem is that there will be an election cycle, and the closer you get to the election cycle, the harder it is to reach the compromises between the parties to be able to pass a bill that is this complicated.”

That’s right. With races for governor, lieutenant governor and all House seats up for grabs in 2014, candidates will be looking to differentiate themselves from their opponents, not reach across the aisle for something that will help all of the commonwealth.

That kind of thinking is already hurting us. It was evident when Rep. Carl Walker Metzgar, R-Berlin, told Sutor that he doesn’t believe that the transportation bill should emphasize mass transit. He’s more worried about fixing the dilapidated bridges across the state.

Getting our roads and bridges fixed is a worthy – and absolutely necessary – goal, but in Walker Metzgar’s scenario, it’s also a situation where he’s looking out only for his constituents, not the good of the people of Pennsylvania. Mass transportation isn’t important in his rural district. Try catching a bus from Manns Choice to Hyndman or taking a subway from Salisbury to Boynton.

But for Barbin, the situation is much different. He’s got to make sure it’s still possible for his constituents to take a CamTran bus from the West End of Johnstown to Richland Township without it costing an arm and a leg.

“Mass transit’s a big issue here,” said Barbin. “It’s a big issue because, No. 1, senior citizens use it, and, No. 2, people get to work using it. We have a million riders of mass transit in Cambria County, so a bill that doesn’t have mass transit in it, there’s no chance I’m going to vote for it. I wouldn’t vote for a bill unless it had mass transit money in it.”

We understand how both congressmen feel. They are representing the needs of their districts to the best of their abilities, but our legislative leaders need to be able to come to a compromise on the transportation bill. It’s too important to let slide any longer and, as Barbin said, it could only get more difficult to find common ground in an election year.

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