The Pennsylvania General Assembly has just four voting days left this year, and they still have not passed a transportation funding bill. A Senate bill that would fund roads, bridges and public transit has been languishing since it was passed in June.
Now, a local nonprofit is trying to turn up the heat on key legislators by calling the constituents in their districts.
Breen Masciotra is the regional outreach manager for the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group, or PCRG, a consortium of community development organizations from around the greater Pittsburgh area.
“We’re here at the United Steelworkers using their phone bank system to reach out to voters in districts of legislators that we think are on the fence on this issue, and we’re asking their constituents to call them and ask them to support the bill,” Masciotra said.
PCRG has identified 12 state representatives from around the commonwealth they think could help get a transportation funding bill passed.
Many of the targeted lawmakers represent rural districts outside of Allegheny County, though Rep. Rick Saccone (R-Jefferson Hills) and Rep. Mike Turzai (R-McCandless Township) both made the list.
Helen Gerhardt, a volunteer with Pittsburghers for Public Transit, said it can sometimes be a challenge to get people in rural districts to care about public transportation funding.
“What many people don’t realize is that rural and suburban roads are dependent on the urban tax bases of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia,” Gerhardt said. “The economies of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are dependent on mass transit.”
Another challenge, said Masciotra, is explaining exactly what they are asking constituents to ask of their representatives. At the moment, there is no particular bill number to support, because Senate Bill 1 may not be the bill that actually makes it through both houses and onto the governor’s desk.
“We won’t know until it happens whether there will be a whole new bill that will start from zero, or whether there will be an attempt to revise the existing bill through an amendment which could be small changes or could be a complete overhaul,” Masciotra said.
Gerhardt said that the phone banking effort has changed her outlook on the chances of a transportation funding bill that includes funding for public transit being passed this year.
“I was not at all hopeful a month ago,” said Gerhardt. “(Now) I really think we have a chance, and I think that if our legislators hear from their constituents, hear how crucial public transit is in their lives, this could actually happen.”
Masciotra said she expects lawmakers to vote on a new or revised funding bill next week.