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.
RAD money for PAT: designating the Port Authority as a regional asset would enable it for a $3 million piece of the proceeds from the share of the 1% sales tax set aside for regional assets like the zoo, libraries, parks, etc. and would combine with other sources from the County and the state. Of course, making room for PAT in the RAD pool could mean some crowding out of other assets entirely or through a smaller or flat allotment. A decline in sales tax proceeds could also precipitate complications.
We pointed out in a Brief this year that giving PAT a piece of RAD money would raise "is" and "should" questions (and we addressed the topic in earlier years, here and here). There is nothing in the law that says transit is not a regional asset: we pointed that out and a legal opinion delivered to the RAD board echoed that. Then would come the discussion about whether there was merit in giving PAT a monetary commitment. It could open the door to having other public authorities showing up at RAD’s door asking for money.
Several representatives of Pittsburgh arts’ groups communicated as much to the RAD board at a hearing yesterday. "If this (funding for Port Authority) occurs, then where does it stop?" asked one leader. Another said "Whether it’s one year or 10 years, it presents an unprecedented challenge". Part of the reason could be that the predictions that there would be a $5 million surplus might look a bit different. The RAD budget, and the decision on whether PAT will be a part of it, will come by the end of November.