HARRISBURG - Pennsylvania Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch and others involved in discussions on a massive transportation bill said Thursday they have been encouraged by recent discussions but cautioned that no deal has been reached.
Schoch said talks with Democrats and Republicans in the state House are the "correct way to find a solution," although a number of issues remain unresolved.
"At this point it will succeed or fail, but I'm confident it will be well-vetted," Schoch said. "If it doesn't work, that way I'll at least know I gave it the best shot we could to get it done."
House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, recently delayed a House vote on a Senate-passed, $2.5 billion-a-year package. At the request of Gov. Tom Corbett, he said the vote would occur next week, giving the administration more time to seek a deal.
Dave Thomas, an aide to House Speaker Sam Smith, R-Jefferson, said it was unlikely any vote will occur this week as the efforts continue.
"It definitely has life now that it didn't have three weeks ago," Thomas said Thursday. "There's still a long way to go getting it across the finish line."
Among the issues negotiators face are the total amount of the funding package, how much will go to mass transit, where the money will come from and potential changes in the state's prevailing wage law on public construction projects.
House Democratic spokesman Brett Marcy said discussions between leaders and staff have been productive.
"At this point, what they're trying to figure out is where there's agreement and where there's disagreement, and trying to meet in the middle," Marcy said. "We remain optimistic that we will be able to reach a compromise."
Transportation funding has wide support in the Legislature, and the Senate passed a bill 45-5 in early June, but the proposal hit opposition in the House, particularly among the Republican majority. The bill would raise gas taxes and a host of fees to pay for the work.
Thomas said Smith believes the transportation bill needs 60 to 65 Republican votes in the 203-member chamber, and it may take changes to prevailing wage rules to make that happen.
Marcy said Democrats have not been involved in discussions regarding prevailing wage, a topic of considerable importance to the unions that make up a powerful element of their coalition.
If the current push fails, transportation may be dead for the current legislative session, which has more than a year to go.
"If this latest effort falls short, I think it's time to agree we can't get transportation done and move on to another issue we can get done," Thomas said.