HARRISBURG (AP) — Gov. Tom Corbett on Wednesday renewed his appeal for a compromise on stalled legislation to ramp up state transportation spending, slapping his hand on a lectern and holding up a chunk of concrete and rebar from a bridge in need of repair.
Corbett also tried to set the tone for the next two weeks of negotiations before lawmakers return to Harrisburg on Nov. 12. He urged everyone to give a little bit of ground and for people to contact their legislators.
“A reliable transportation system is not a matter of personal convenience,” Corbett told reporters after an unrelated news conference in his Capitol offices.
“It is a matter of safety, of our livelihoods, of our economic competitiveness with other states, and frankly with other countries, and is matter of our overall quality of life.”
Corbett warned that, without new funding, more highway jobs will be lost because state transportation dollars are shrinking. And he echoed the warnings of supportive legislators who say the chances of the bill’s passing diminish, the closer next year’s election gets because it carries a hefty tax and fee increase that might not be publicly popular.
“Do not take this lightly,” Corbett said. “If this bill does not pass this year, I don’t know when it will.”
The legislation would boost the state’s spending on Pennsylvania’s transportation systems by almost 50 percent, while making the state’s fuel tax rates among the nation’s highest.
Corbett, who pledged during his 2010 campaign for governor not to raise taxes or fees, has nevertheless said he would sign either of two leading proposals in the House and Senate that each raise taxes and fees on motorists.
The legislation is the most closely watched issue before the Republican-controlled General Assembly, and is a top priority of the Republican governor, major business groups and labor unions.
Corbett’s comments Wednesday followed stumbling efforts in the House to produce a transportation-funding bill that would be acceptable to the governor and the Senate.
Conservatives are wary of the tax and fee increases necessary to underwrite more than $2 billion a year in additional transportation funds. To attract significant rank-and-file Republican support, House GOP leaders want to include provisions to roll back wage requirements on local and state transportation projects in a funding bill.
But Democratic lawmakers oppose changes to wage requirements and say a vote on a transportation funding bill should not be tied to such provisions.
Several labor union leaders have said they would support a narrow change in wage laws to win passage of a robust transportation bill. But Corbett’s transportation secretary, Barry Schoch, said Wednesday that no labor union leader supports the broader change sought by House Republicans to exempt hundreds of millions of dollars in maintenance projects from wage laws.