The Pennsylvania state House delivered a body blow Monday to hopes for a major transportation spending proposal in a test vote that raised doubts about the measure's future.
The House voted 98-103 against a proposal to raise gasoline taxes and a host of motorists' fees to spend billions on roads, bridges and mass transit systems.
The Republican majority was divided over the idea, and was ultimately unable to persuade enough Democrats to vote for it. Debate then moved to a scaled down "critical needs" approach favored by Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny.
The vote came after a spirited debate in which opponents warned of constituent backlash from the tax and fee increases, while proponents said there was wide consensus the state's transportation infrastructure needed an infusion of cash.
"I don't want to be the one who hosts that bridge that goes down, but mark my words, there will be a bridge that goes down," said Rep. Jeff Pyle, R-Armstrong.
The issue has dogged the House for much of the year and particularly since early June, when the Senate voted 45-5 for a very similar proposal.
"This is about a $2.5 billion dollar tax increase," said Rep Brad Roae, R-Crawford, saying gas prices would increase by about 28 cents per gallon as a result. "It is absolutely certain the oil companies will pass that on to the consumer."
Gov. Tom Corbett campaigned for a transportation bill, most recently leading a rally in the Capitol Rotunda on Monday.
"I've heard a lot of people say, 'Let's kick the can down the road,'" Corbett said at the rally. "It's pretty hard for a can to go down the road when it's broken."
Corbett, a Republican, appeared with hundreds of others, including his Democratic predecessor, Ed Rendell, and Rep. Nicholas Micozzie, R-Delaware, the sponsor of the proposal the House considered on Monday.
Micozzie's proposal would eventually generate more than $2.3 billion a year, including nearly $500 million for mass transit, and would save local governments millions of dollars by implementing new limits on which transportation projects would require "prevailing wage" minimum pay rules.
House Democratic leaders filed an alternative to Micozzie's bill that was identical except for the prevailing wage change, and sought to bring it to the floor Monday. Many labor unions oppose the wage change being proposed by Micozzie.
Corbett said the state needs a comprehensive transportation plan, linking it to public safety and economic growth.
"Delaying this action, that's not solving the problem," Corbett told the crowd, warning that construction costs will only increase in the coming years.
Three years ago, in the waning days of his successful gubernatorial campaign, Corbett expanded his no-new-taxes pledge to include fees, among them motor vehicle levies.
Leaving the rally, Corbett deflected a question about why he now supports such taxes.
"We're letting them get to work," he responded, without elaborating.
Micozzie's amendment would have increased vehicle registration and driver's license fees, added a surcharge to serious moving violation tickets and increased by $125 the fine for failure to obey a traffic control device.
It also would established a new "multi-modal" fund for rail, ports, aviation, and pedestrian and bicycle facilities, and allowed speed limits on certain interstates to be increased from 65 mph to 70 mph.