Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Harrisburg Fails On Transportation - And Where We Go Next

Political gridlock brings out
the color in Oliver's cheeks
It was quite the dramatic weekend in Harrisburg as legislative leaders wrangled about the state budget, transportation funding, liquor privatization, and public education. In the end, the state budget passed on time, but transportation funding was pushed back until the fall.

A Recap
So, what happened this weekend? We rallied to support the Senate transportation funding bill (Senate Bill 1) with other organizations like PA Walks and Bikes, Mission Readiness, the American Heart Association, and the 200+ organizations that comprise the Keystone Transportation Funding Coalition.

The Senate's bill included a robust multi-modal fund that adequately funded all modes of transportation. The House version was $300-$500 million below the Senate-passed version and threatened this multi-modal approach to transportation funding - including significantly less funds for bicycles, pedestrians, and public transportation.

In the end, the House could not generate the number of bi-partisan votes necessary to pass its own version of Senate Bill 1. Clearly, the transportation bill feel victim to the rural versus urban divide that defines Pennsylvania politics.

Silver Linings
Although we didn't get the bill we wanted, we accomplished a tremendous amount in this effort. Look how far we came:
  • In January, Governor Corbett's transportation proposal did not mention bicyclists or pedestrians. 
  • We engaged Harrisburg through grassroots organizing, media engagement, and intense involvement with a diverse new coalition that included bicycle, public health, environmental, bicycle tourism, and other voices.
  • By June, bicycling and walking were listed as an essential part of a state transportation system and had their own dedicated funding in both the Senate and House version of the bill.
With your help, we become a serious player in this debate by demonstrating our stake and collective power. Transportation in Pennsylvania has traditionally meant bridges and roads. We were successful in opening up the issue to a multi-modal perspective, one considering health and environmental costs and benefits.

In the final week of the debate, our representatives in Harrisburg heard from fellow legislators who were shocked at the prominence of health and bicycle organizations in the debate over Senate Bill 1. Literally thousands of emails were generated last week. And as a result, we are in a very good position to pick up where we left off when the legislature takes on this issue in the fall.

What Happens Next
We are better off trying a second time in September to get a good bill passed by both the Senate and House, one that reflects the principals of the Senate version of Senate Bill 1, than accept a flawed bill that does not give our state a transportation system for the 21st century.

In the meantime, we should be thanking those legislators in the Senate that supported the historic passage (45-5) of Senate Bill 1 - notably Senators Rafferty and Wozniak. Additionally, those Representatives in the House Transportation Committee that voted to bring an amended version of Senate Bill 1 to the floor should also be congratulated - especially Chairman Hess and McGeehan.

We are very proud of the work that we have done collectively over the past few months. Thank you to everyone who responded to our emails and blog posts and sent emails and/or made calls.We tip our hat to the Alliance for Biking and Walking, the League of American Bicyclists, and Bikes Belong for activating their own networks on behalf of Pennsylvania.

We intend to continue working with the Walk and Ride PA Coalition and be ready for the Legislature's return in September.