Major roads measure passes Pa. Senate by wide margin

House expected to quickly send bill to Corbett

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HARRISBURG -- A last-ditch effort by Democrats to amend a major transportation bill to make it more palatable to organized labor failed in the state Senate on Wednesday afternoon, setting it up for a likely quick passage in the House today, followed by Gov. Tom Corbett's signature.

The bill passed the Senate, 43-7, in a bipartisan vote.

The $2.3 billion package -- which will fund roads, bridges and mass transit -- is similar to a measure passed by the Senate in June.

However, House Republican leaders insisted on the inclusion of a change from the current $25,000 to $100,000 in the threshold that triggers prevailing wage, a guarantee of union-scale wages on public construction projects. The measure narrowly passed in the House on Tuesday, after failing twice Monday. It must return to the House today for procedural reasons.

"The House has insisted on this," Sen. Rafferty, R-Montgomery, said on the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon. He asked his Senate colleagues to support the bill, despite that change.

While some major unions approve of the move, others remained opposed, worried it will clear the way for a broader assault by Republicans on wage protection. The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO opposed the change.

Without the prevailing wage addition, the Senate was "looking at a stalemate position," Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi said. "I don't think that's an acceptable alternative."

Democrats were blocked, with a rarely used Senate procedural maneuver, from offering an amendment that would have stripped the prevailing language from the bill, leading to a somewhat rowdy disagreement on the Senate floor.

A spokesman for Mr. Pileggi said the Democrats' attempt to offer the amendment was "a transparent political maneuver" and the final vote of 43-7 showed the broad support for the bill.

"We were shut out of the Democratic process," Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, said of the maneuver.

"We should not allow the House to dictate policy to us," said Sen. Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, who voted against the bill Wednesday after having voted for the transportation measure in June.

Mr. Costa said his vote Wednesday was largely based on the inclusion of the prevailing wage measure.

Other Allegheny County legislators voted for the measure, including Democrats Jim Brewster, Mr. Ferlo, Wayne Fontana, Matt Smith and Tim Solobay and Republican Randy Vulakovich.

The legislation mainly raises revenue through removing a cap on the oil company franchise tax paid by fuel distributors, a move expected to be passed along to consumers, at least in part. The oil franchise tax, which now is assessed on just part of the wholesale price of gasoline, would be extended to the full wholesale price.

The cap would be lifted gradually. According to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette calculation, next year, the tax would rise from the current 32.3 cents/gallon by 9.5 cents to a total of 41.8 cents/gallon. That would increase to 51.5 cents/gallon total in 2015, and up to 58.7 cents in 2018.

Other parts of the bill:

* Permit PennDOT and the Turnpike Commission to establish 70 mph speed limits on highways that meet sufficient engineering and traffic criteria.

* Increase passenger car vehicle registration fees from $36 to $37 in 2015-16 and from $37 to $38 in 2017-18, with inflationary increases every two years thereafter.

* Increase drivers license fees from $21 to $22 in 2015-16 and from $22 to $23 in 2017-18 with inflationary increases every two years thereafter.

* Increase seven existing surcharges on certain moving traffic violations by 50 percent.

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

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