Transportation bill goes nowhere in House
HARRISBURG – An effort to bring a transportation revenue bill to a vote in the state House crashed Saturday evening, with lawmakers from both parties trading barbs in the aftermath.
Republicans, who control the House with 111 votes, charged that Democrats were withholding votes for the proposed $2 billion transportation revenue bill. The Democrats have 92 members.
It’s not clear when or if transportation will be revived. As the clock winds down to midnight Sunday, when the state budget is due by law, the focus now shifts to adopting a budget. Some leaders have discussed the possibility of staying in session Monday and Tuesday before summer recess.
The transportation bill is somewhat controversial because it would lift the cap on the oil company franchise tax, which eventually would raise prices at the pump and potentially subject lawmakers who voted to enact it that they voted for a tax increase. Bills boosting taxes or fees are often shouldered by an agreed-to number of Republicans and Democrats so neither party bears the brunt at election time.
Anticipation built throughout the day for possible House passage of a transportation bill, which some believe is tied to Senate passage of a liquor privatization bill. The Senate on Saturday night approved an amendment to expand private liquor sales.
Both the transportation and liquor bills are key agenda items of Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.
“It’s no secret that we oppose liquor privatization,” said Bill Patton, a spokesman for House Democrats. Every House Democrat voted against the privatization bill in March. But the only people who have linked liquor and transportation are the Republican leaders. Democrats oppose the Republican transportation bill because it is simply “a terrible bill.”
Two GOP House leaders, Dave Reed of Indiana County and Rep. Mike Vereb of Montgomery County conducted an impromptu news conference once the House adjourned for the day, blaming Democrats for the stalled transportation bill.
“When you hold a hostage, you better know what you want,” Vereb said.
Reed said he believed Democrats are holding out because of the possibility of liquor privatization being approved.
“We have our votes. We understand the Democrats do not. We’re getting prepared to move ahead,” said House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods.
Reed refused to say how many votes the Republicans have for the bill.
Patton said that once the reality of what was in the amended transportation bill became clear, “whatever little support there was for this bill evaporated.”
“We’ve been communicating to the Republicans since yesterday how bad we think this bill is and what needs to be done to fix it. We’ve gotten a tepid response from them,” Patton said.
Brad Bumsted is state Capitol reporter and Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. They can be reached at 717-787-1405 or Bumsted can be reached at [email protected] and Andren can be reached at [email protected].