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Republicans help pass infrastructure funding bill

Delaware Public Media

Republicans and Democrats brokered an infrastructure funding deal just before midnight Tuesday, with lawmakers set to recess for the rest of the year.

Much of the concessions come in the form of new thresholds in which prevailing wage will apply for state projects – something the GOP had been calling for since negotiations started.

New state projects costing less than $500,000 and renovation work totaling less than $45,000 will not have to adhere to prevailing wage laws, nor would any project being wholly funded by money from the Municipal Street Aid or Community Transportation Funds.

In return, Republicans supported a $23.9 million package raising certain DMV fees.

That will be coupled with $24 million in borrowing over the next six years – eventually raising half of what a similar plan proposed by Gov. Jack Markell (D) would have through a ten-cent gas tax increase.

Another provision of the deal requires that all of that money will be devoted entirely to capital projects through a constitutional amendment unless approved by 75 percent of state lawmakers.

That amendment will need 2/3 majority approval from both chambers over two consecutive General Assemblies for passage. A temporary measure lasting until 2016 was passed unanimously

$5 million of DelDOT operating costs will also be moved out of the Transportation Trust Fund.

“We appreciate the opportunity to responsibly fund transportation and get these reforms on and continue to move forward,” said Senate Minority Whip Greg Lavelle (R-Sharpley).

DelDOT officials have warned the General Assembly of a $780 million backlog of projects – $180 million of which they say are critical.

Transportation Secretary Jennifer Cohan says she was hoping to see a five-cent gas tax tacked on to the proposal to help raise additional money, but adds the deal is "a good step in the right direction." 

"We have a major infrastructure issue to look at, but we'll take this for now and we need to get producing. I think the citizens of Delaware, with the passing of this, are going to make sure that we do that and we're ready to go," Cohan said.

“This legislation represents a significant step in addressing the revenue shortfall in the Transportation Trust Fund that has threatened our ability to ensure the modern infrastructure that is critical to our future," said Markell in a statement, also noting his support for the so-called 'lock box' provision.

“That is a responsible step to show the public that the increased fees and all funds allocated to the Trust Fund will be used to deal with our infrastructure needs.”

The final vote saw three Republicans – Senate Minority Leader Gary Simpson (R-Milford), Sen. Ernie Lopez (R-Lewes) and Lavelle – switch their votes after GOP lawmakers in the Senate voted together to torpedo the bill just last week.

A prior attempt by Democrats to address prevailing wage never got off the ground when it was introduced in May after months of negotiations.

Those talks first stalled that same month when House Democrats, frustrated by Republicans walking away from the table, pushed their version of the DMV fee hike bill and prevailing wage reform without GOP support.

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