House vote on Pa. transit bill delayed

Republicans, Democrats had hoped to reach agreement on the measure

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HARRISBURG -- A much-awaited vote on a major transportation funding package will be delayed in the state House until at least November.

Last week, some of those close to the bill's negotiations had hoped an agreement could come to the House floor this week, before legislators leave Harrisburg until Nov. 12.

A transportation bill is a major legislative priority for Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.

Republicans and Democrats trying to reach a deal still appear to be worlds apart on issues such as how much of the bill should fund public transit -- an issue for urban Democrats -- and if changes to the state's prevailing wage laws will be part of the bill -- a demand of many Republican legislators.

House Speaker Sam Smith, R-Jefferson, said Tuesday prevailing wage changes are key to an agreement.

A $2.5 billion annual transportation funding package for roads, bridges and mass transit passed the Senate in June but never came to the House floor for a vote.

Philip Ameris, president and business agent for the Laborers' District Council of Western Pennsylvania, said he remained hopeful that a bill would pass in November.

"From what I understand, they're going to try to renegotiate the bill. Everything's still up in the air," he said.

The proposed changing of prevailing wage requirements remains "a major issue," he said. The Laborers' union has signaled its willingness to support raising the threshold for requiring union-level wages on state construction projects from the current $25,000 to $100,000 as a gesture of compromise, but other unions have balked, fearing that would "open the floodgates" to more assaults on prevailing wages, he said.

Mr. Ameris' view is far from unanimous among unions.

Rick Bloomingdale, president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, said he would not want to see the bill tied to such changes.

"This idea that they've got to extract some type of wage cut for workers in order to do the right thing seems absurd to me," said Mr. Bloomingdale, who added that transportation should be supported on its own merits.

The proposal also seems to be unlikely to make much headway with Democrats, although they emphasized talks are ongoing.

"By a vote of 45 to 5 in June the Senate passed a transportation bill that did not try to tear down prevailing wage," said Bill Patton, a spokesman for House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont. "Likewise, House Democrats have no desire to change the existing law, which protects the pay of workers who construct and maintain buildings and infrastructure all over the state. The work that they do is critical; they should be paid fairly."

Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, also said his caucus has voiced strong opposition to changes in prevailing wage rules.

He said he remained hopeful.

"There may be other alternatives out there that would bring the right number of votes to the table," he said.

The threshold increase would not have much impact. PennDOT awarded contracts for only 17 projects between $25,000 and $100,000 last year, with an aggregate value of $1.1 million, department spokesman Rich Kirkpatrick said.

Last week, some of those close to the bill's negotiations had hoped an agreement could come to the House floor this week, and even suggested that could be critical to its success.

Mr. Smith down played that idea Tuesday.

"Everybody's still talking," he said.

Kate Giammarise:, 1-717-787-4254 or on Twitter @KateGiammarise. Jon or 412-263-1868. First Published October 22, 2013 2:57 PM

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