A pox on PSERS & a Port Authority object lesson

A pox on PSERS & a Port Authority object lesson

The embattled Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS), its back against a wall in a federal investigation, appears to be circling the wagons.

Spotlight Pa and The Philadelphia Inquirer report that “leaders” of the PSERS board have cut off other board members from legal briefings about the probe. Those “leaders” have been stung by leaks about the investigation.

Those same “leaders” are floating the idea of a formal investigation and making board members sign nondisclosure agreements.

As one might imagine, some board members are not amused. And some have gone public with their pique.

And it all comes in a climate in which the original investigation – prosecutors’ questions about a miscalculation of investment performance that has cost PSERS-covered employees and taxpayers alike — has blossomed into a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) look-see into not only that aspect but also to determine if the pension fund’s staff “had improperly taken gifts from outside consultants and investment houses,” the media report says.

SEC involvement is said to be ground-breaking.

Prosecutors also have raised questions about real-estate purchases.

But the bottom line in all this is that PSERS is a public pension fund. And sound public policy demands transparency, not only with fellow board members but with the public that invariably sees its wallet hung out to dry in such scandals.

Talk of plugging “leaks” and investigating “leakers” not only smacks of intimidation but it forces reasonable people to think that a lawyered-up PSERS board has something, or some things, to hide.

Dear Port Authority of Allegheny County, please take note of what just transpired in New York.

Gov. Kathy Hochul has pulled the plug on disgraced former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $2.1 billion, 1.5-mile “Air Train,” an elevated rail “people-mover,” that was supposed to run between the Borough of Queens and LaGuardia Airport.

The bottom line with this mass-transit joke was not only that part of the project first required riders to go east and then backtrack and go west but that, as critics noted, it would be faster to take a bus or a taxicab than the Air Train.

Oh, by the way, that $2.1 billion price tag could not be justified for the expected dearth of riders that might use it.

Which bring us back to the Port Authority.

It’s long-range plan – a wish-list, if you will, but still part of a plan — calls for northerly and northwest extension of its light-rail system known as the “T.”

One line would go through Manchester and Chateau enroute to Bellevue and Emsworth. Another line would traverse the Central North Side enroute to Ross.

Cost? Anybody’s guess. But whatever cost might eventually be quoted, best add 25 percent for miscalculation and another 25 percent to pay the union-extorted and government-protected “prevailing wage.” Then, perhaps, add another 15 percent or so for a “project labor agreement” that is pure extortion for not striking.

Nonetheless, the Port Authority has hired a pricey official to find necessary funding for this project and others.

Never mind that light-rail remains the least-efficient mode in which to move large numbers of people and that buses easily get the job done better.

But, hey, what’s spending a few hundred million dollars when you can get the federal government to fund it and claim “no local tax dollars will be used,” right?

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).