The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

October 13, 2013

Highway funding deal may be near

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 PennDOT 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, has signaled a House vote on the

$2.5 billion transportation funding plan passed in the Senate could come as soon as  this week.

Significant hurdles remain.

Leaders believe there are around 70 lawmakers in the House who will support any transportation plan put up for a vote, said Turzai’s spokesman, Stephen Miskin. 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.

House Republican leaders 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 highway 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. 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.

Whether the plan includes prevailing wage or not, Gov. Tom Corbett wants a transportation funding plan.

“(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.”

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