Once again Governor Corbett has nixed the pleas for his help in getting more money for the Port Authority. In response to a question on funding, the Governor said he is "not prepared to do anything" until he "sees movement" in contract negotiations. In holding firm he continues to keep the pressure on the unions and retirees of the Authority to make significant concessions, the only way the Port Authority can ever hope to deal with its massive legacy cost and compensation problems.
The game of chicken the unions have always played leading up to the end of contract deadline is underway again. In the past few negotiations, the threat of a strike has been explicit or implied as a way of getting the management to give up its demands or to get a Governor to find extra money taken from highway funds as a temporary fixes to the Authority’s finances. Having always won these contests of will in the past, the unions and retirees are inclined to believe the current Governor will give in at the last minute rather than watch the implementation of the massive service cuts Port Authority management say are coming in September.
If history holds, the real test of the Governor’s position will occur at the end of the contract if the unions go on strike or in August just before the service cuts get implemented. But this is a contest the Governor must win if sanity is to return to Port Authority financial management.
The Allegheny Institute continues to recommend a one- time boost in state assistance of $30 million in exchange for a substantial permanent reduction on retiree health care benefit concessions, current compensation concessions and a no strike pledge for ten years.
Hard on the heels of its repugnant and indefensible vote to smear W and K Steel by designating it as a “sweatshop”, County Council has added to its irresponsible record by voting unanimously for a resolution urging the Port Authority (PAT) to spend all the recently received bailout money by June 30 to avoid impending service cuts and layoffs.
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?