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CPBJ Extra Blog

Take two parties and call us next session

By ,
Jim T. Ryan
Jim T. Ryan

Every day, the pain increases, like an ice cream truck pulling up to you, running over your foot, backing up, pulling forward, backing up...

You get the picture, but that's transportation funding reform.

And here's the latest pain: PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch this week told the state Senate Transportation Committee that at least 1,000 more bridges around the state would face greater weight restrictions without new funding for our aging infrastructure.

That means more companies hauling everything from socks to natural-gas-drilling equipment will have to take longer routes to get where they're going. Longer routes means added expenses. Not a good idea just as we're seeing stronger economic improvement.

Other pain in this process: Tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike will continue to go up, as was announced this week with the new rates for 2014. This schedule of increases has been expected, but it's directly related to the necessity to borrow money to pay PennDOT under current funding plans.

That painful ice cream truck's driver — his name is General Assembly — just put the van in reverse again. Why? It's an election year cycle.

When Senate Bill 1 got to the House, it never hit a floor vote (scroll down to see the actions) even after getting out of committee. So I called House Speaker Samuel Smith's office.

I asked Steve Miskin, Rep. Smith's spokesman, why the speaker didn't just call a vote on the bill if it was out of committee.

Miskin said Democrats walked away from it.

"They perceive it as giving Gov. Corbett a win, so they're going to be the party of 'no,'" Miskin said.

But some Democrats voted for it in committee, so why not just call the vote and let the chips fall? Because they couldn't get 102 Republicans to back tax increases and pass it without Democrats, he said.

OK, but why not just call the vote? At least then it had a chance and you'd know where you stood. The House leadership removed the bill from the table on June 28, after House Transportation Committee Chairman Dick Hess said he thought it had a chance over the weekend.

What gives? The bill's a priority for Republicans, but leadership yanks it after their own committee member expresses optimism for it?

If Republicans had called the vote, forcing Democrats to make their election-year political statement on the record, then at least the line that it's the other guy's fault would be more believable with a record of it.

On the flip side, why didn't Democrats support it? Most voted against it even in committee.

Are both state parties really taking cues from Congress, holding a process hostage for the sake of politics? You've seen Congress's approval ratings, right? Let me remind you, they're not good.

So will House leadership be able to bring enough Republicans and Democrats along before the end of the session? Miskin's reply was that they're going to work with the governor and the Senate on that. He did not say they will work with House Democrats.

Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems the problem is that neither party is particularly interested in working together in an election year, at least in the House. Transportation funding reform passed the Senate with a bipartisan vote of 45-5.

Let's call it intuition, but this isn't going to get done before session's end. Though I hope they prove me wrong.

Jim T. Ryan covers Cumberland County, manufacturing, transportation and workforce issues. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at You can also follow him on Twitter, @JimTRyanCPBJ.

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