Authority Figures

Authority Figures

Not long ago Allegheny County was discussing dissolution of some of its related authorities, like the Airport Authority and the Port Authority, in order to exert greater control over their operations by bringing them into the County’s organizational chart. Now a member of City Council, noting how the City’s authorities straddle two worlds in which they are supposed to be independent but also seem to be subject to the demands of the City, wants to explore dissolution.

Authorities are quasi-governmental agencies: they can’t tax, but they can issue debt and assess user fees and set rates for the services they provide; their board members are appointed, not elected, and the appointments are made by elected officials; they are supposed to be independent and free from political interference, but that is not often what happens.

As we wrote in a Brief earlier this year the municipality that created the authority can dissolve it as long as there is a clear assignment of any outstanding debt. That’s why the City Councilman wants to start with the Parking Authority: it carries around $100 million in debt, an amount that would have been erased under a long-term lease as proposed by the Mayor.

But there would be a better place to start: the City’s Stadium Authority. It was created to own and operate Three Rivers Stadium. The Authority even admitted years ago that its place in the governing landscape would cease once Three Rivers was demolished. Would anyone be surprised that the Authority is still around, conducting business as a land development agent for the City, almost ten years after the stadium was demolished?