Lawmakers just say no
@$:RON GOWER/TIMES NEWS The transportation bill could affect many bridges in the area such as this one in Penn Street, Lehighton.
The state House of Representatives late Monday slammed the brakes on a much-debated transportation bill that would have added $2.4 billion over five years into fixing state highways and bridges, and mass transit funding.
The 98-103 roadblock hit at about 10 p.m. The flashpoints of disagreement included that the amended bill would be fueled by a 25- to 28-cent gas tax, and a proposal that would have cut back construction workers' pay for work on local road projects by raising the prevailing wage kick-in threshold from the current $25,000 to $100,000.
Lawmakers may again enter the fray on Tuesday, or step back a bit before reconsidering.
At stake is money to fix the state's deteriorating bridges and highways. The bill would have allocated $1.8 billion to repair and rebuild the state's deteriorating highways and bridges; $500 million for mass transit, and another $150 million for bike paths, rail, sea and air transport.
Although Gov. Tom Corbett, who along with business and industry interests, supports the bill, he did not release a public statement on the vote late Monday.
Among local legislators voting against the bill were Doyle Heffley, R-Carbon; Jerry Knowles, R-Schuylkill-Berks; Mike Tobash, R-Schuylkill-Berks; Julie Harhart, R-Lehigh-Northampton; and Neal Goodman, D-Schuylkill.
In a telephone interview early Tuesday, Heffley said the proposed gas tax, which would increase over five years, along with other fees, drove his opposing vote.
"We need to do something with roads and bridges, but the increases in the bill were too high," he said. "It really would have been a huge burden on the taxpayers of Carbon County."
He said he was also concerned with the amount of money that would have gone to mass transit.
"I think we need to continue to work to find deficiencies in the (highway and bridge repair project) system. Ultimately, I felt the gas tax would have been a lot to bear. We live in a rural district, and people have to travel a long way to work. I couldn't support that. I look forward to continuing to look for solutions, but I didn't feel this proposal was in the best interests of Carbon County. People are struggling to pay their property taxes. They don't need a gas tax on top of that."
State Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch was quick to express his disappointment in the vote, and warned that it would mean the state Department of Transportation would be forced to impose more weight restrictions on even more bridges. In August, the state imposed weight restrictions on about 1,000 "structurally deficient" bridges, including spans in Packer, Kidder, and Lower Towamensing townships.