Corbett would sign House or Senate highway bills
HARRISBURG (AP) – Amid Pennsylvania’s stalled debate over how to raise more money for highways and transit agencies, state Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch said Friday that Gov. Tom Corbett would sign either of two plans that have led debate in the Legislature.
Corbett has not to date publicly endorsed any specific transportation funding plan in the Legislature after a $1.8 billion plan he released in February failed to gain much traction with lawmakers.
But a new willingness by the governor to embrace either bill is a sign that he is no longer willing to let disagreement over some elements of each bill stop him from making it law.
“He wants a transportation bill on his desk,” Schoch said. “What passes both parts of the Legislature I believe he’ll sign.”
In early June, the Senate voted 45-5 to approve a bill that would eventually increase transportation spending by $2.5 billion a year. Leaders of the House Republican majority would not endorse the Senate bill, but they also were unable to come up with a plan that could pass the chamber before lawmakers left Harrisburg for the rest of the summer. A less expensive plan that emerged from the House Transportation Committee later that month lacked support from Democrats and dozens of Republicans.
Schoch made the statement ahead of an expected House floor session in which representatives would have the opportunity to vote for either bill, as well as a slew of amendments. The wide-open floor debate that is expected in the next week or two is a sign that leaders of the fractured House Republican majority are unable to develop a consensus on a bill.
“I think the majority of the (Republican) members know we have to do something to deal with the transportation issue, and the question is still and always was, ‘what?”’ said Stephen Miskin, a spokesman for House Republican leaders.
New transportation funding is also a top priority of major business groups and labor unions.
The Transportation Department is slated to spend about $5.7 billion this year on state and local roads and bridges and mass transit systems. But it isn’t enough to help transit agencies expand to meet new demand or cover their costs, and it’s not enough to stop the growing backlog of highway miles and bridges in need of repair, transportation officials say.
However, conservatives have opposed the tax and fee increases that would be required to support a substantial increase in funding, and House Democrats say Republican leaders have made no attempt to seek out their input.
In August, Schoch announced new weight restrictions on about 1,000 state and local bridges — about a 50 percent increase — and said he was moving the needle on Pennsylvania’s liberal willingness to tolerate risk in its aging bridges.
Critics of new transportation funding quietly criticized it as a political move designed to turn up heat on lawmakers.
On Friday, Schoch warned that more bridges may get weight restrictions in the coming months and that damage to the state’s economy is growing. A representative of the coal industry told him in recent days that bridge postings were driving up coal by $10 ton, making the product too expensive to compete on the world market, Schoch said.
“It’s something that if it doesn’t get done, it really is going to be difficult for everyone to come out of this and suggest that anyone looks good in this,” Schoch said. “This is a basic responsibility of government and as you can see there are significant consequences in not moving forward.”