During a contentious session Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Senate voted 43-7 to move forward with a plan estimated to raise about $2.3 billion annually for roads, bridges and mass transit.
The House approved the plan Tuesday night but will have to take a final vote Thursday afternoon before it heads to Gov. Tom Corbett (R).
“Everyone in Pennsylvania knows that our bridges and roads are deficient, and they’re falling apart. We had to do something,” said Sen. Richard Alloway (R- 33rd District).
Democrats tried unsuccessfully to have language stripped from the bill affecting Pennsylvania’s prevailing wage laws. The bill raises the threshold at which workers must be paid the state’s prevailing wage. The current threshold is construction projects costing more than $25,000. The new threshold would be $100,000.
Some union leaders view the move as an attack on workers’ wages.
“And, it’s unfortunate that all of this maneuvering took place on something that everyone should be able to get behind,” said Sen. Rob Teplitz (D- 15th District). He was among the seven senators who voted against passing the bill.
Rep. Seth Grove (R-196th) initially voted against the plan earlier this week before receiving reassurances the prevailing wage changes would be included in the bill’s final version.
“Their angling is if it’s removed out of it, it’ll go back to status quo, and there won’t be any leverage to change it. So, putting it in the transportation bill guarantees that it does get done,” said Grove.
Democrats also questioned a provision in the bill that raises the state’s maximum speed limit from 65 miles per hour to 70. Teplitz pointed out there had been no public hearings on the issue.
Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R) supported the measure.
“The timing of the speed limit increase is both acceptable and necessary to include as a part of the transportation plan, in light of the significant amount of funding being invested in transportation infrastructure across the state,” said Scarnati.
The bill raises a variety of fees. For example, driver license fees would increase from $21 to $22 in 2015-2016 and from $22 to $23 in 2017-2018.
The plan eliminates a 12-cent per gallon tax on gasoline. It also lifts the cap on a tax oil companies pay. Opponents of the bill fear that increase will be passed onto drivers. Earlier this year, Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch estimated it could add up to 28.5 cents per gallon.
The House is scheduled to meet at 2 p.m. Thursday. A spokesman in the governor’s office said Corbett potentially could sign the bill into law Thursday night, though the logistics were still being discussed.