By State Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Allegheny
On Oct. 30, Gov. Tom Corbett held a media event in my district on the need to get a transportation bill to his desk. First, let me say that I agree with him that the time is long overdue for the General Assembly to make a significant investment in our infrastructure like many of our neighboring states – Ohio, Virginia and others. All the economic reasons for investing in our roads, bridges, and mass transit needs have already been well-documented.
I represent a district where more than 57 percent of the people don't own a car and where many of the available jobs and employment opportunities require a reliable transit system to get their workforce to and from their places of business. So I have long stood with them demanding we take significant actions to invest in a sustainable funding source for mass transit which grows with their needs.
That's why I voted for Act 44 of 2007, which had a dedicated long-term source of funding for our roads, bridges and mass transit, but which was later stripped because of political pressure from our in-state northern neighbors and from Congress. My long-term support and advocacy for investing in our crumbling infrastructure also led me, in 2010, to support and actively advocate in a Democratic-controlled state House, with a Democratic governor, for passage of a transportation bill sponsored by then-Appropriations Chairman Dwight Evans, that failed to get a vote in another committee.
Now, three years later, we are still struggling to find our common ground and do what the citizens of this commonwealth expect – make decisions that improve their quality of life. Investing in our roads, bridges, and mass transit is a core function of government. Therefore, I can appreciate Corbett's call for the General Assembly to act, even though he took about 18 months to respond to the August 2011 recommendations of his own transportation commission.
It's critical that what we get done is sufficient and meets all of the requirements we need to support our current and future infrastructure needs, including:
• It has to meet our state constitution's standards -- it has to be a House bill because all revenue-generating bills have to originate in the state House, under Article III, Section 10. That's why Evans and I recently introduced H.B. 1823.
• It has to have a dedicated source of funding for our mass transit which grows with the needs over time and keeps up with inflation. It should be at least $2 billion of new state money, with at least $400 million going to our transit systems throughout the state.
• I believe we should create a commission to begin to look into the future transportation needs of our commonwealth and the various ways our citizens will travel throughout our state.
• Lastly, but just as important and rarely spoken, any bill should also include workforce and contracting language that encourages and supports employing our chronically unemployed citizens and our struggling small businesses, especially our veteran-, women- and disadvantaged-owned businesses throughout the state.
This is an economically critical bill and it should have long-term and vast positive economic impacts for all Pennsylvanians, especially those who are least able to afford pricey lobbyists to protect their interests in the unpredictable legislative process.