Business and labor groups on Tuesday urged the state House to swiftly approve a Senate-passed bill to provide $2.5 billion for transportation needs, saying the investment would keep Pennsylvania competitive.
The joining of interests that often battle each other was so unusual that Pat Gillespie, business manager of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council, told reporters at a news conference: "I'm uncomfortable up here with all these bosses (on stage)."
The Allegheny Conference on Community Development joined the groups to push for House passage of the bill that would lift the wholesale cap on gasoline taxes and likely raise prices at the pump. Critics call it a tax hike.
"We can't afford to wait any longer. We're getting to the point where inaction is going to discourage businesses from expanding and locating in the Pittsburgh region," said Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of the Allegheny Conference.
House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, who opposes the bill, said he intends to call a vote. Asked whether that's an effort to demonstrate that the bill can't win House support, Rob Wonderling, CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, said: "I take the (majority) leader at his word."
House Republicans intended to discuss it behind closed doors, said House GOP spokesman Stephen Miskin.
The Senate overwhelmingly approved the bill in June but it failed to garner enough support before the House recessed for summer. The fall session opened on Monday.
"It's time to fund transportation and transit and keep our region -- and the whole state -- competitive," said Yablonsky.
Inaction, he said, would hurt transit not only in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh but in 67 counties. Transportation is "a core function of government," he said.
"God help us if we don't do this and something happens," said Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, a Democrat. The cost of fixing roads and bridges would double if lawmakers don't act now, DePasquale said, because such a bill would become off-limits in 2014, an election year.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said failing to act would mean "we're putting at risk job creation and young people moving to Allegheny County."
Despite what some people think, the bill isn't controversial, said Wonderling.
"It's routine. It happens every 10 years or so," he said.
Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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