An op-ed piece today compares the Port Authority to a down-on-their-luck person who comes begging for money and, against the better judgment of the person of whom assistance is requested, gives in. The "askee" this time is the Regional Asset District, which last week included in its budget a $3 million allocation for PAT as part of a big funding package. "it should be a one time thing" the op-ed notes.
That’s going to be difficult: the County Executive, who appoints all of the PAT board members and four of the seven RAD board members, noted back in August that he will "ask the asset district board…to make a $3 million annual commitment, not just a one-time grant." We also documented previous shifts or "flexes" of money to the down-on-their-luck authority as recently as two years ago when the Southwest Planning Commission played the role of the benevolent one, being asked by the Governor to approve money for PAT. That board, in 2005, said that the last time it flexed money would be the last time it flexed money. They did flex the money, basically saying that they weren’t serious when they said they would not shift money again. The RAD board will be in the same position next fall: previous experience suggests it won’t be the one to make the PAT allocation a one time thing.
By a vote of 27 to 22, the Southwest Pennsylvania Commission (SPC) has again chosen to toss its integrity out the window and approve moving more money to the dysfunctional money pit known as the Port Authority (PAT). And in doing so it has confirmed for the transit unions that money will always be found to bailout the preposterous operating costs, inefficiencies and enormous legacy costs of PAT thereby removing the necessity of the unions being asked to make concessions.
If the past is any guide, the unions have no intention of ever making concessions. Still, the prospect of losing another 500 jobs before March and even more after June might have convinced them to begin talking about givebacks. Now, that will not happen and probably never will as this was the best chance of extracting concessions PAT has ever had-too bad management never even brought the idea up in hopes of winning some public support. The SPC’s latest cave-in will be viewed by the unions as proof positive that bailouts will always be there. Future prospects of concessions have become nil.
It will be interesting see the report on who voted for and who voted against the SPC approving the money pass through. If most of the members who represent surrounding counties were "no" votes, and most of the "yes" votes were from Allegheny County or state appointees, the SPC’s action could be very bad for regional cooperation. How ironic. Allegheny County civic and government leaders constantly and loudly tout regional cooperation as the key to economic success. But when the rubber meets the road, they become County partisans-and worse union partisans. After all the money the SPC has provided for PAT over strenuous objections of board members from other counties, this latest vote can only be interpreted as in your face power politics. Why should they be surprised?
The only hope for bringing sanity to the disaster masquerading as a public transit system is for the state government to take a series of steps we have outlined in our latest report-now available online.
On December 13th the board of the Southwest Pennsylvania Commission (SPC)-which consists of elected and appointed officials responsible for steering planning and transportation priorities for the ten county region-must decide whether it will once again approve robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Pennsylvania’s Governor is in Pittsburgh today announcing that, surprise, surprise, he has found $45 million in unspent economic development funds that could be used to avert the planned service cuts at the Port Authority and grant the next legislature and the incoming Governor time to come up with a permanent fix.
Stop us if you have heard that one before.
It happened in 2005 when the Governor found close to $700 million to give to PAT, SEPTA, and other transit agencies in order to give his task force time to come up with a transportation fix. We wrote in a 2005 Policy Brief that the temporary fix "would make it very tempting to forget the real problem" plaguing PAT and its sister agencies. What followed was Act 44 and the ill-fated I-80 tolling plan.
The Southwest PA Commission had acquiesced to previous requests to flex highway money to PAT and, after doing it several times, said enough was enough. The Governor’s action-if carried out-gives SPC an out since what is being flexed is economic development money, not highway money.
That raises this question: why would the Governor, who is such a strong proponent of all the positives public sector economic development can deliver, leave some $45 million unspent? How many jobs could have been created with that expenditure in these tough economic times?
As we have written time and again, so long as the state continues to ride to the rescue with temporary fixes there is no impetus to address the right to strike, the monopoly status of PAT, or how to begin outsourcing of service. Will the next Governor and General Assembly let today’s action serve as a free pass?