Port Authority Board Appointment Bill Moves Forward

By a 16 to 10 vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee on June 10th, Senate Bill 700 took another step toward becoming law. Of course, the full Senate has to consider it and, likewise, the House must approve and it is not clear what the reception will be in that body.



The bill, sponsored and heavily supported by the president pro tem of the Senate, has two key provisions. First, the naming of board members of the Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAT) is changed dramatically. Eleven members will be appointed. One by the Governor, one each by officers of the four legislative caucuses, one by the County Executive, one by the Mayor of Pittsburgh, and four by the at-large members of County Council. The at-large member appointees will be named from a list of nominations by four designated organizations (Allegheny Council of Governments, ACHIEVA, the Southwest Regional Commission and the Allegheny Conference on Community Development). Existing members’ terms would end in 60 days. Existing members would also be eligible to serve in the new regime.


The effect of this new appointment scheme will be enormous. By removing all but one of the member appointments from the County Executive and placing five with state government officials, the state assumes more of an oversight role for the Authority. By having four board members appointed by at-large council members from various entities presumably there will be some vetting and possibly a variety of viewpoints represented by the members.


Appointments-Current Law and Proposed Law


Current Law

Proposed Law

# of Board Members



Appointment Power

County Executive

Governor (1), County Executive (1), Mayor of Pittsburgh (1), State Legislative Leaders (4), At-Large County Council Members (4)

Residency Requirements

U.S. Citizen, resident of County

Resident of Commonwealth


None Specified

Experience in Budgeting, Finance, Economic Development, Transportation, Mass Transit

Term Limits

None Specified

Three Consecutive Terms


It is worth noting the changes in qualifications.  Under the proposed law, members will have to have expertise or experience in areas important to the management of a large organization and specifically some will have to have experience related to transportation issues.


The second key provision is a mandate to PENNDOT to (1) study the possibility of consolidation with other local transportation organizations to determine if revenues could be enhanced or expense reduced and (2) to study the opportunities for privatization that will enhance revenues or lower expenses. A report with findings and recommendations for each study is to be ready within 180 days of the enactment of the bill and provided to the Governor, the General Assembly and PAT. 


These study requirements are useful but could be worded better to include such things as improved operational efficiency, lower cost per rider, and better service.  Moreover, it is not enough to recommend consolidation or privatization, there needs to language to require the adoption of recommendations when the analysis strongly supports them. A mandate to privatize some percentage of bus service within three years is a reasonable requirement.


Obviously, the County Executive and many loyal supporters of the status quo at PAT will be extremely opposed to these steps. But given the state’s financial support and the chronic financial crisis PAT finds itself in and is unable to resolve on its own, there simply must be some major reform.


The steps contained in the legislation are a start but they alone do not adequately address the primary source of the Authority’s long term problems-the right of the transit workers to strike. As long as that situation exists, it is only a matter of time until the threat of a strike will force the board, no matter how the appointments are allocated, to choose to approve a contract it cannot afford or a shutdown of the system and all the attendant difficulties and hardship that entails.


Still, there is no gainsaying the fact that this proposal is a game changer. It represents a very strong signal regarding the state government’s exasperation with PAT and its constant demands for more funding while operating one of the most expensive per rider systems in the nation.


The only question is whether the House members have the same level of exasperation. Will it concur that substantial change needs to occur at the Port Authority?

If Walls Could Talk About Trial Dates

Is it remotely possible that setting a new trial date for the long and frequently delayed trial of Chuck McCullough might involve just a tiny element of political calculation? And how about the timing of the new trial date announcement just days before the primary voting? The new trial date is set for the week after the November election. If he wins the Republican primary for Chief Executive, the Democrat candidate will have a huge political hammer with which to pummel Mr. McCullough.

What a position for Republicans voters to be in. If they believe the man is innocent and choose him in the primary, they will be setting him up for a Democrat drubbing in the general election, where Democrat voters are far less likely to give him the benefit of any doubt. If Republicans view him as probably guilty and chose the other gentleman and he loses in the fall and Mr. McCullough is vindicated at trial, how can they not feel manipulated?

Of course, the Executive candidate could have prevented the dilemma by not running or asking for an earlier trial date prior to the primary to be vindicated. So, in a sense there is a lot of blame to go around. But, that does not make all of the judge-granted postponements and the new trial date appear any less odd. An interesting little dance to be sure.

Fumbling County Government

When the sitting County Executive announced last week that he will not run for reelection (under the Home Rule Charter an Executive can serve a maximum three terms) the President of County Council noted that the Executive’s decision is "…almost like the Steelers losing Troy Polamalu.".

Steeler fans know all too well the effects of missing its starting strong safety: as of the 2011 season the Steelers posted a losing record (5-7) without Polamalu in the lineup. Backups have not gotten the job done. Hard to do for Pro-Bowl players.

So what is the Council President saying? Surely he meant to praise the current Executive, but in so doing he seemed to be demeaning candidates running in the spring and all subsequent holders of the office. It becomes all the more curious when one realizes that the President is likely to be one of those candidates. It makes one wonder if anyone is worthy of the office going forward.

Should the Council President run and win, should he be viewed as a lackluster imitation of the current Executive? If he does not take the office (either by opting not to run or running and not winning) will he treat the successful winner as stepping into shoes they will never be able to fill?