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State gears up for highway bill


February 20. 2013 3:40AM
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HARRISBURG — The battlefield is beginning to take shape for the upcoming push by Gov. Tom Corbett to enact a major transportation plan, less than two weeks before he will outline the proposal for the state's roads, bridges and mass transit services.


Legislative leaders are starting to talk about what they hope it contains – and what they will not support – in what could end up as one of Corbett's signature first-term initiatives. One sticking point could be a move to link passage of the transportation bill with efforts to privatize state-controlled liquor stores.


The first-term Republican isn't saying much about the details of what he will propose in his Feb. 5 budget address after he apparently scrapped tentative plans to roll it out this week. The governor's office has not explained the delay, but one of Corbett's legislative allies said the plan is undergoing revisions suggested by lawmakers.


Members threw in some additional ideas to the governor about things, said House Majority Whip Stan Saylor, R-York. I think the governor is also delaying it to do some additional research.


The centerpiece of the proposal had been an increase in wholesale gas taxes designed to raise $1.9 billion annually, and it is unclear whether that will change. For a significant number of legislators, including many Republicans, any tax increase is a nonstarter, and Corbett campaigned on a no-new-taxes platform in winning the governorship in 2010.


Corbett spokeswoman Kelli Roberts said Friday that the Department of Transportation already had achieved considerable cost savings, to make sure every dollar is maximized.


Saylor said some House Republicans think a vote on Corbett's transportation plan should be delayed until lawmakers in both chambers vote on whether to privatize the state liquor stores. House Republicans last year tried, but failed, to pass legislation to privatize wine and liquor sales.


I am fine with trying to do issues together, Saylor said. I think that there are some people who definitely want to see both of them passed, in some cases, the liquor bill first.


That might not sit well with Democrats or Senate Republicans, for whom transportation funding is a top priority.


This issue needs to get moved forward and not be linked to another issue, Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, said Friday. We don't need Washington-style politics in Harrisburg this legislative session. People want results.


Scarnati said privatizing the liquor stores ranks lower as a priority than concerns over the cost of public employee pensions, crumbling transportation networks, school safety and tight state finances that may demand more spending cuts.


Always controversial, money for mass transit might be hotly contested.


Democratic lawmakers, as well as Senate Republicans, say mass transit must be part of the deal.


Some lawmakers support phasing in the gas tax increase over several years, as opposed to imposing the full $1.9 billion in the first year, Saylor said, and some support raising money through fee increases.




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