Rep. Readshaw accused of distorting transit law

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HARRISBURG -- A campaign ad from state Rep. Harry Readshaw attacks a transportation funding law for aiding mass transit in Philadelphia -- yet the same legislation also helped transit in Allegheny County.

The commercial states: "Readshaw fought Governor Corbett's massive gas tax that funds Philadelphia's mass transit."

The bill, signed by the governor last fall, also benefited Allegheny County's transit system, which the ad doesn't mention.

The Port Authority of Allegheny County has said the bill's passage provided new funds to wipe out projected budget deficits from $34 million for the current fiscal year to $68 million in the fiscal year that begins in July 2016 and that without the funds, there likely would have been more service cuts and fare increases. The authority also has said the legislation will provide annual aid from $13 million to $41 million to improve service and for maintenance and infrastructure needs.

Most of the bill's funding, however, supports roads and bridges. It gives the green light to 23 extra projects in southwestern Pennsylvania, PennDOT officials announced earlier this month, including rehabilitating Pittsburgh's Birmingham Bridge to the tune of $40 million.

"While [the ad is] factually correct, it lacks any meaningful context," said Chris Borick, a professor of political science and director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion in Allentown.

While Republican Gov. Tom Corbett considers the bill one of his signature accomplishments, it had a large amount of bipartisan support. Former Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, campaigned for the bill, as did Democratic Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

A number of Democrats voted for the measure; in the state House between 39 and 48 of the chamber's 92 Democrats supported it the four times the House voted on the bill.

Mr. Readshaw said while he supports safe roads and bridges and reliable public transportation, he was opposed to the tax increase aspect of the legislation.

"What we did was place the entire burden [of the bill's revenue source] on the citizens of the commonwealth," Mr. Readshaw said. "We cannot just tax, tax, tax."

Opposition to the bill came largely from House conservatives who opposed the tax and fee increases, and from Democrats and some unions who opposed a provision to raise the threshold for paying union-scale prevailing wages on certain projects.

Mr. Readshaw has been a House member since 1995. He is facing a primary election against fellow Democrat Erin Molchany, a first-term representative. The two incumbents are pitted against each other due to redistricting. Ms. Molchany voted in favor of the transportation funding package.

Professor Terry Madonna, a pollster at Franklin & Marshall College and longtime observer of state politics, said it is not unusual for representatives from across the state to run "against Philadelphia."

The transportation bill could come up again in other General Assembly races, Mr. Madonna believes, though he said based on polling he's conducted he's not certain if that's an effective issue.

"Overall, [the transportation bill] is not unpopular with voters," he said.

The ad is running on cable television this week, Mr. Readshaw said.

Kate Giammarise:, 1-717-787-4254 or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.

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