There is renewed hope in Harrisburg that the state House of Representatives may be inching closer to approving a major transportation funding plan as House Republican and Democratic leaders hold meetings working out the details of the bill, according to several caucus sources contacted about the ongoing talks.
As of press time, details, including the final price tag of the bill, remained uncertain, but one source said there’s more agreement than disagreement.
If the House approves a funding measure, follow-up approval in the Senate is seen as almost certain.
The Senate unanimously cleared a $2.5 billion plan in June but it became tangled politically in the House with a measure to privatize liquor sales. The plan included uncapping the lid on the whole price of fuels and raising the cost of licensing fees and fines for moving violations.
Raising the cap is the core of the discussion in the House but the fees faced some resistance last June.
Another hurdle, and one that could keep the bill bottled up, is a Republican plan to amend the Prevailing Wage Law to save money on construction and maintenance projects. The 1961 law guarantees workers a minimum regional wage on publicly funded construction and maintenance projects that cost over $25,000.
The Republicans have tried in separate legislation to increase the minimum threshold that was established 50 years ago. But organized labor opposes any changes in the law and has been successful in stopping approval on the House floor.
“We need a funding bill, and it should be more in the range of $4 billion,” said Frank Sirianni, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council. “But we need it with no changes to Prevailing Wage. A couple of local trades are willing to negotiate on this but the vast majority of the unions oppose any change at all.”
For the past three years, support for funding has been building from both parties, and business and labor, since a 2010 report from the Pennsylvania State Transportation Advisory Committee concluded that the state was falling $3.5 billion short every year for roads, bridge and mass transit.