The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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November 19, 2013

State house passes transportation bill

HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania state House of Representatives salvaged a major transportation spending proposal and approved it in a key vote tonight, a day after the measure was narrowly defeated amid concerns over the size of its tax increase and provisions to roll back wage requirements on some highway projects.

The House's 104-95 vote today was a test of support for the Republican-sponsored measure that is backed by Gov. Tom Corbett, but has been criticized by conservatives and supporters of labor unions.

The state Senate could take it up in the coming days.

The proposal would raise gasoline taxes and numerous motorist fees to spend more than $2.3 billion a year on roads, bridges and mass transit systems. It was defeated, 103-98, on Monday night, spurring Corbett's office and House Republican leaders to regroup today and seek out wavering lawmakers.

The House Republican majority was divided over a tax increase that conservatives call the second-largest in Pennsylvania's history. Meanwhile, House Democratic leaders were riled by the wage provision that House Speaker Sam Smith had insisted on including in the bill.

Gas taxes could go up by as much as 28.5 cents per gallon at the pump, based on the average wholesale price in use for 2013, while drivers would pay more for licenses, registration and some traffic violations.

The proposed increase is nearly 50 percent of the $5.3 billion that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is scheduled to spend this year on highways, bridges and transit.

Proponents say the plan would protect public safety and give the state's economy a big boost by updating taxes and fees to reflect inflation after going unchanged since at least the 1990s.

The transportation bill is the most closely watched in the Capitol and is being heavily lobbied by a wide range of business groups and labor unions.

Corbett has made the passage of a transportation funding bill his top legislative priority this fall, but House leaders have struggled for months to respond to the Senate's June 5 passage of a $2.5 billion plan.

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