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Pa. transportation bill talks said to gain steam

Mark Scolforo and Marc Levy, Associated Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- A key state House Republican negotiator said Friday he was optimistic about the chances that the chamber will pass a plan to fund billions in improvements to Pennsylvania's highways, bridges and mass transit systems, with a preliminary vote possible within a week.

Dave Thomas, an aide to Speaker Sam Smith, R-Jefferson, told Capitol reporters that the total amount of new transportation funding in the bill was likely to be between $2.2 billion to $2.4 billion a year. The state Senate voted overwhelmingly in June for a $2.5 billion proposal, but that proposal stalled in the House on a key agenda item of Gov. Tom Corbett's.

Thomas said he expected talks between House Democrats and Republicans to go through the weekend.

"I think we'll have a bipartisan transportation funding plan that we'll be able to take to the floor," Thomas said.

Some important details remain unresolved, including how much money would be devoted to mass transit and whether the plan will unfold over three or five years. Thomas said Republicans are determined to include as part of the legislation changes to the state's prevailing wage rules for public works projects.

House Democratic spokesman Bill Patton confirmed that progress has been made, and that the tone of the discussions was encouraging.

"I'd agree that things are moving in the right discussion," Patton said. "I just don't know how close we are on all of those details."

If the House approves the amendment on Wednesday, final passage in that chamber will require a separate vote on another day and House lawmakers are not scheduled to Harrisburg until mid-November. Senate approval would still be required before it could arrive at Corbett's desk.

Corbett, a Republican, made a transportation funding bill one of his priorities in the run-up to passage of the state budget in June, but it stalled amid questions about the new tax, fee and fine increases that would be required to pay for it.

House Republicans also favored a plan to privatize the state liquor store system — another of Corbett's priorities — but it has remained in the Senate since being sent there in March.