Only one state House representative from Washington County voted in favor Tuesday of the long-awaited $2.3 billion transportation bill that was overwhelming approved a day later by the Senate.
The bill goes back to the House for yet another vote expected today before it is sent to Gov. Tom Corbett for his signature, said state Sen. Tim Solobay.
“Ultimately, we needed this done,” said Solobay, D-Canonsburg. “We needed it done for a long time. It’s going to put thousands of people to work.”
The House approved the Republican amendment to House Bill 106 in a 106-95 vote. State Rep. John Maher, R-Upper St. Clair, said it is essential to fund more infrastructure projects and update the prevailing wage law, and for those reasons he voted “yes” on the proposal.
“Municipalities have been clamoring for reforming the prevailing wage, so for simple things like filling potholes and replacing guardrails, or those sorts of maintenance projects, they can just get out to do them in the most cost-effective way for taxpayers,” Maher said. “It would allow local municipalities to take care of their road maintenance the way that any homeowner or business owner would without getting all entangled in the extra costs, extra paperwork of the prevailing wage law.”
The transportation bill would raise the prevailing wage threshold from $25,000 to $100,000.
Solobay said the wage threshold concerns him.
“The municipalities. Are they going to get low paid contractors?” he said.
Republican Rep. Rick Saccone of Elizabeth voted against the measure because of a gas tax increase that, by some estimates, would eventually reach 28.5 cents per gallon.
“It will propel Pennsylvania to the highest gas tax in the nation,” Saccone said. “The local people just can’t afford that. They all tell me taxes are crushing them.”
Solobay said the bill does eliminate the fixed 12-cents per gallon tax on gasoline consumers have been paying at the pump.
Saccone said he has proposed alternative ways to fund transportation, such as cutting unnecessary expenses and utilizing more state-owned land for natural gas drilling.
State Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, said he also opposed the measure because of the gas tax increase and prevailing wage threshold. White said he wished the Republican-controlled House would have considered a severance tax on Marcellus Shale drilling companies.
“The roads are being destroyed at a rate three times faster than they should be because of the shale industry,” White said, adding that the transportation measure is “unfair to regular working families.”
State Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Jefferson, expressed frustrations with the transportation proposal, particularly with the prevailing wage threshold.
“I don’t think that issue should have been tied to transportation,” Snyder said. “It’s hard to ask legislators to vote for one of the highest tax increases in a long time, especially at the pump, while at the same time eliminating the potential for the local workers to get work and be paid a decent wage.”
State Rep. Brandon Neuman, D-North Strabane, said the gas tax and higher prevailing wage threshold would “put the burden on the middle class,” and he voted against the transportation measure.
State Rep. Peter Daley, D-California, voted against the legislation, also citing a concern for middle-class families.
“We must find a better, fairer way to rebuild our crumbling roads and bridges than sacrificing the economic futures of countless families with the largest state tax increase in decades,” Daley said in a news release Tuesday. “We need solutions, not more economic martyrs.”
The passing of the transportation measure in the House was a success for Gov. Tom Corbett, who said in a news release Tuesday that it “will keep our transportation system safe and efficient, improve the state’s economy and improve the quality of life for our 12 million-plus residents.”
Staff Writer Scott Beveridge contributed to this report.