Keep local control: Harrisburg's plan for Port Authority is wrong route

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A state legislative power grab for the Port Authority is bad news for transit customers.

At the behest of Joseph Scarnati, the president pro tem of the Senate, a committee on Monday advanced a measure that would expand the Port Authority's board from nine to 11 members and drastically change who makes the appointments. Where Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has the sole authority now, the bill would allot him the right to choose only one member. Four would be selected by the two at-large members of county council, four by legislative leaders, one by the governor and one by Pittsburgh's mayor.

The state deserves a seat at the table due to its financial investment in the transit agency, but Mr. Scarnati's formula would dilute local interests too much. What does a representative from rural Jefferson County care if Pittsburgh workers and students can't access reliable transportation? None of his constituents, the people who keep him in his job, live in the region or have an interest in Allegheny County.

With Republicans in control of both chambers of the Legislature as well as the governor's mansion, members of that party would be making the Port Authority board appointments. That's troubling because the local Republican delegation to Harrisburg has not yet been an advocate for maintaining a viable Port Authority.

Which is not to say that the board's composition shouldn't change.

Mr. Fitzgerald does not need to retain complete autonomy by appointing the entire board. He has said as much himself; when he was campaigning for the office, he said he favored regionalizing transit and recognized that would require broader membership on the Port Authority's board.

How about retaining a nine-member board, with three appointed by the governor with Senate confirmation, one by the mayor and five by the county executive?

The authority has taken some steps in the right direction in recent years, downsizing and keeping better control on costs. A tough period lies ahead, and advice and financial resources from the state will be needed.

But local control of the local transit agency is vital and should be part of any formula for the future.



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