Once again the Port Authority chief executive is warning of disastrous cuts in service if the state does not come through with more funding; something the Governor has suggested is not on the front burner for discussion at the moment. According to the Tribune Review of November 2, the legacy costs of the Port Authority are now a fourth of its total expenditures and slated to rise even further in coming years. The Allegheny Institute has warned of this preposterous situation for years as nothing meaningful has been done to address the problem.
Instead of cutting into these costs and lowering current compensation costs the Authority has engaged in service cuts to lower spending. And while some early service cuts were useful in eliminating costly low volume routes, recent reductions have cut into service affecting large numbers of riders. That action is all management can take in the face of union intransigence and bargaining power backed by the threat of strikes.
The time has now arrived to face the bitter truth. Taxpayers should not be asked to ante up ever more money to pay benefits to people who are retired and not providing any service. It does not matter if previous boards were too generous or whether union bargaining power was overwhelming, the situation must now be dealt with in the only manner possible-bankruptcy relief. Unless the monstrous burden of legacy costs are reduced, there is no future for Port Authority other than continued shrinkage of service offerings or ever increasing taxpayer subsidies to cover benefits that produce no product.
Authorities are not allowed to declare bankruptcy in Pennsylvania so it will be necessary for the legislature to change the law governing authorities to allow PAT to file for bankruptcy. Then it needs to create an oversight board with the power to order the bankruptcy to be filed and then to oversee the implementation of the terms of the bankruptcy judge’s ruling.
This fiasco has to end. Concessions by current and retired employees would be a good start but are so unlikely that it makes no sense to continue hoping for that to happen. Drastic corrective measures are called for. Only Harrisburg can do what needs to be done. It could start by eliminating the right to strike as a quick step in the right direction.