Corbett: lawmakers need to act now on transportation funding - abc27 WHTM

Corbett: lawmakers need to act now on transportation funding

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Cars and trucks zipped along Interstate-83 in Cumberland County directly behind Governor Corbett today as he strained his voice to be heard over them.

But he delivered a clear message, mostly intended for House Republicans: get me a transportation funding plan and get it to me in time for the June 30 budget deadline.

Corbett no doubt senses that transportation funding is in a legislative logjam and he hopes this roadside press conference will help free it from Capitol congestion.

The governor wants either his $1.8 billion plan or Senate Bill 1, a $2.5 billion plan, passed. Both the Senate and governor's plan would increase fees and gasoline taxes to pay for additional funding for roads, bridges and mass transit, which are frequently criticized and widely considered among the worst in the nation.

"This is how we get a sustainable long-term solution to having funding for Pennsylvania for transportation," Corbett said.

PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch gave specific examples of where new money would go. He showed the brand new Lowther Street bridge in the background as an example of the good things that can happen with more cash. He also warned that projects like the widening of Interstate 83 would be scrapped without extra money.

"The reason for that is, we'll go back to basic maintenance," Schoch said. "Unfortunately, if we don't take action on funding, this is the last of these type projects you'll see in the Harrisburg region."

House Transportation Committee Chairman Dick Hess (R-Bedford/Fulton/Huntingdon) agreed and said lawmaker should approve more funding.

"We've kicked this can down the road for 13 years now," Hess said at the press conference. "We have to do something. You sent us here to be leaders. I know it's not the most popular thing to do, but sometimes you have to do what's right."

But right is wrong to many House Republicans who worry about passing a bill that would raise prices at the gas pump. Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) was less than enthusiastic about the issue when asked about it Wednesday.

"Transportation has always been a Senate priority," he said. "It has not been a House priority." Remember, leaders drive the agenda in the General Assembly.

What is a priority for the House Republicans is liquor privatization. House Whip Stan Saylor (R-York) is in charge of rounding up votes. He says votes for roads would flow more freely if the Senate would reciprocate on booze.

"There's a chunk of the members in the House Republican caucus and they're saying, 'We want the liquor bill.' That is the tradeoff for getting their vote on transportation."

There's no official link between liquor and transportation, but based on that comment, there's a de facto linkage between the two.

Saylor smiled and said, "I'm just being honest."

A year ago, also beside a busy road, then-Auditor General Jack Wagner poked a stick at a  crumbling bridge support in Harrisburg. He forcefully asked the legislature to act on a transportation plan. 

Wagner's big stick didn't work but Corbett's trying the highway-side press conference tactic. It remains to be seen if that will work.

Corbett made it clear he wants transportation, and pension reform, and liquor privatization on his desk with the budget, by the deadline that is now 30 days away. 

But if lawmakers continue to stall on a transportation package, they risk getting run over by the issue.

Adams County Representative Dan Moul (R) seems to understand the danger of suggesting that roads and bridges, "aren't a priority."

"I don't want to wait until a school bus full of school children goes through a bridge and into a river to do something about it. I want to be proactive."

In federal and state dollars, PennDOT currently spends about $6 billion a year. 

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