State House on Transportation, SEPTA funding: ‘We’re getting there. Maybe.’

septa1Unfortunately for those of us living in the greater Philly area, the recent and distant future of our rail system relies on another system run by a bunch of politicians who drive to work, are ready to hold meaningless votes and consider mass transit a government handout.

Fortunately for us, sort of, those people are at least back at their jobs. And recent actions show they may be ready to bite the bullet and release some train/road/bridge funds.

The state Legislature arrived in Harrisburg on Monday, and brought with them a laundry list of leftover priorities many Keystoners have been waiting on.

Perhaps the most pressing: The $2.5 billion state transportation funding bill, which would help fund Pennsylvania’s roads, bridges, public transit, bike lanes, and other stuff. It’s been a gigantic hurdle in the Legislature this year.

Originally slated to get passed and signed before the session ended on July 1, it and the two other “Big Three” bills (liquor and pensions) stalled and, therefore, failed miserably.

Earlier, transportation passed the more-moderate Senate. But once it got to the House, no one could agree on a final version of the bill. This was especially difficult considering some members of that chamber have equated mass transit in the state’s largest economic community, with welfare.

Knowing that, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority released their “doomsday budget” scenario to the media a couple weeks back. It includes shutting down most regional rail lines and switching a bunch of above-ground trolleys to bus routes, all that new techy stuff on your wish list be damned

Now it’s the fall, and the Legislature may get on its feet and try to get this thing on record, after all — with strings, of course. House Majority Leader Mike Turzai told the Pennsylvania Press Club on Monday that he actually hopes to schedule a vote, even though, according to PoliticsPA, he may not be on board with the bill he opposed as recently as this summer. Rather, he noted the vote may come up because Gov. Tom Corbett wants it to.

And on Tuesday, both business and labor groups (often at odds with one another) meeting in Western Pennsylvania called upon the House to pass the damn bill, according to a report in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

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 to repair roads, bridges and increase funding for mass transit.

“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.

Thing is, the $2.5 billion is way more than most Republicans in the House seem willing to spend. And as is noted in the Tribune-Review’s report, chamber leaders often bring up bills they oppose to watch them fail, forcing their opponents back to the bargaining table. So as usual, everyone agrees something needs to be done, except the people who are supposed to do it.

So, the vote could come as early as next week. Or not. We recommend never getting too optimistic about these things.

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