HARRISBURG — As majority leader in the state House, Rep. Mike Turzai gets to decide what comes to the floor for a vote.
If he wants it, he'll get it.
And Turzai, a Republican from Allegheny, apparently wants a vote on a $2.5 billion transportation infrastructure spending plan. And he wants it soon.
"I'm advocating that we have an up-or-down vote on Senate Bill 1 as it came over from the Senate," Turzai told reporters after his appearance at the monthly Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon.
But here's the twist: Even though Turzai committed to having a vote on the bill, he said he plans to vote against it.
"Nobody's asking, among everyday people, to increase their gas tax. Nobody's asking for fees, fines and surcharges to be increased," he said.
Turzai said he would prefer a spending "$500 million or $600 million" to address "critical needs" only. But he wants to get other lawmakers on the record.
In June, the state Senate voted 45-5 in favor of the $2.5 billion transportation bill. The increased spending for roads, bridges and mass transit would be paid for by increasing taxes on gas stations, along with fees paid by drivers and fines for moving violations.
But House Republicans voted to reduce the final spending amount to $1.8 billion to satisfy conservative elements in their caucus.
Democrats in the state House pulled their support for the bill because they wanted $2.5 billion — or more — and the GOP was unable to pull together enough votes, despite a 111-92 majority, to approve any transportation spending plan at the time.
That $2.5 billion plan "enjoys wide support" among House Democrats, according to caucus spokesman Bill Patton.
But they want to have some say in the process, and may not line up in support of the Senate bill if it is presented in a take-it-or-leave-it manner by the House GOP.
"Democrats want something to get done on transportation, but for that to happen, we have to be a part of the conversation," Patton said. "They can't say 'here's a bill, vote for it'"
In January, the governor pitched a $1.8 billion transportation funding plan. But when the Senate increased the spending total to $2.5 billion and passed it to the state House, Corbett said he was grateful for that bipartisan support.
The administration has kept up the pressure during the summer by reducing the weight limits on about 1,000 bridges in the state.
Lynn Lawson, Corbett's spokeswoman, said the governor was very interested in seeing a transportation bill pass this fall, and would be willing to sign a bill that was different from his original proposal, if it reached his desk.
As for Turzai being a "no" on the bill, Lawson said it was disappointing.
"But Rep. Turzai was sent to Harrisburg to do what's best for his constituents," she said.
Lawmakers returned to Harrisburg for the fall session on Monday and will be here off-and-on until early December, at least.
But there is no schedule for when the transportation vote would take place. Turzai said there would be an internal discussion among Republicans, which could take place in the next few weeks, before the bill came to the floor.
The first gambit of the fall legislative session has been played.
The Pennsylvania Independent is a public interest journalism project dedicated to promoting open, transparent, and accountable state government by reporting on the activities of agencies, bureaucracies, and politicians in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It is funded by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a libertarian nonprofit organization.