Transportation bill gets final OK, heads to Corbett

Prices at gas pumps will rise


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HARRISBURG -- From highway interchanges in Erie, to repairs of Pittsburgh's Liberty Bridge, to additional funds for Port Authority buses and mass transit in Philadelphia, all corners of the state will share in the $2.3 billion transportation package approved this week by the Legislature, Gov. Tom Corbett said Thursday night.

The governor is expected to sign the bill early next week.

"We can tackle the big issues and solve the big problems," Mr. Corbett said, flanked by Secretary of Transportation Barry Schoch and lawmakers of both parties. "We've shown the nation now that our roads, our bridges and our transit systems are nonpartisan."

Passage of the measure was one of the governor's major legislative priorities -- and almost didn't happen after the House initially rejected the measure in a narrow vote Monday night. It was resuscitated and passed the House Tuesday 104-95. It needed to pass that chamber again for procedural reasons Thursday. The Senate passed the measure Wednesday, 43-7.

Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Hill District, one of the Allegheny County Democrats who voted in favor of the bill, stood with the governor Thursday saying the bill wasn't perfect but he supported it to stave off draconian public transit cuts.

"Our county executive [Rich Fitzgerald] laid it out," Mr. Wheatley said, "the massive cuts that were going to be coming to the Port Authority."

Mr. Fitzgerald had lobbied hard for the measure and was thanked personally by the governor Thursday; he also thanked former governor Ed Rendell, several other former governors and unions who had supported the bill, despite changes opposed by some labor groups.

The bill raises $2.3 billion to $2.4 billion by the fifth year, with $1.3 billion devoted to state roads and bridges, and $480 million to $495 million for public transit. The remainder of the money is earmarked to local governments for road maintenance ($237 million), Pennsylvania Turnpike projects ($86 million), a multimodal fund ($144 million) and repair of dirt and gravel roads ($30 million).

The funds come from lifting a cap on the oil company franchise tax paid by fuel distributors, which will cause prices at the pump to rise, though the entire cost may not be passed along to consumers.

The cap would be lifted gradually. According to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette calculation, the tax would rise next year 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.

The tax was the source of much opposition to the bill.

A provision that raised the threshold for transportation projects to pay union-scale prevailing wage was also controversial, cited by numerous Democrats as a reason they voted against the bill.

"Prevailing wage preserves living wage for workers that build our bridges and our roads and our highways ... contracts are not awarded simply to those who have won the race to the bottom," said Rep. Madeline Dean, D-Montgomery, speaking Thursday on the House floor.

Motorists can expect to see other changes, including, an increase in passenger vehicle registration fees from the current $36 to $37 in 2015-16 and from $37 to $38 in 2017-18. Driver's license fees will increase as well, from the current $21 to $22 in 2015-16 and from $22 to $23 in 2017-18.

There is an option for counties to asses an additional $5 registration fee; surcharges on certain moving traffic violations will increase by 50 percent; the cost of a vanity plate will increase from $20 to $76.

The bill also allows PennDOT and the Turnpike Commission to increase the speed limit to 70 mph on some highways.

Asked about his other major legislative goals of state wine and spirit store privatization and pension reforms, Mr. Corbett responded, "Let us enjoy tonight."

Kate Giammarise: kgiammarise@post-gazette.com, 1-717-787-4254 or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.


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