State Sen. Scarnati wants to overhaul Port Authority

Plans to introduce bill to grant appointing authority for board to local, state officials

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State Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati blasted Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald in announcing Friday that he plans to introduce legislation that would overhaul the Port Authority.

"Given the recent fiasco surrounding the dismissal of the former CEO, it is clear that the policy being set by the county executive is not moving the Port Authority in the right direction," Mr. Scarnati said in a statement. He was referring to the dismissal of former Port Authority CEO Steve Bland in February. He also criticized Mr. Fitzgerald for rescinding raises that had been given to non-union employees by Mr. Bland.

Mr. Scarnati, R-Jefferson, said his plan would grant appointing authority for the board to an array of state and local officials including the governor, legislative leaders, Allegheny County Council and the mayor of Pittsburgh. Mr. Fitzgerald, who now appoints all full-voting members, would have a single appointment under Mr. Scarnati's plan.

Mr. Fitzgerald answered the attack with an invitation.

"While we certainly appreciate the senator from Jefferson County's interest in the operations of the Port Authority of Allegheny County, there are many inaccuracies in his statement. I, along with any members of the county delegation, would be happy to sit down with him and talk about the authority's achievements over the past few years related to service efficiency, addressing of legacy costs, increased revenues and economic development opportunities if he would like a better understanding of the agency."

Mr. Scarnati said the reorganization was necessary because "the Port Authority of Allegheny County has been a significant strain on state and local taxpayers for far too long and it is time the Legislature address the issue."

Mr. Scarnati said the state's largest mass transit system, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, is governed by a board structured much as he is proposing for the Port Authority.

Mr. Fitzgerald said he agreed with that approach.

"I have long been an advocate for a regional transit, multicounty approach to mass transit, similar to that of the SEPTA system. It is something that I advocated for and spoke about through my campaign and have also addressed numerous times in my first 15 months in office," Mr. Fitzgerald said.

In 2011, Democratic senators representing Allegheny County sponsored a bill to change the composition of the board so that the county executive would be required to appoint members from different categories, including a state senator and representative.

"The whole point would be the state weighed in and had some representation on the board because the state provides so much funding to the Port Authority," said Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline, the prime sponsor. "I felt the state should be represented on the board, which it really isn't at this point."

Gov. Tom Corbett has no comment about the plan, but Mr. Fontana said it would be premature to change the board now because Mr. Fitzgerald has spoken of moving to a regional approach in transportation.

"The concept was certainly considered before," Mr. Fontana said. "I'm sure it can be considered again. I don't have a problem with that, I just think the folks from Allegheny County should be the ones leading the effort."

Steve Miskin, a spokesman for House Republicans, said the chamber has previously passed legislation to change the composition of the Port Authority.

"There's definitely an interest in the House in changing the appointee makeup of the board. Very obviously it doesn't seem to work right now."

Casey Long, director of policy and legislative affairs for Mr. Scarnati, said the bill could be introduced soon.

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Karen Langley: klangley@post-gazette.com or 717-787-2141. Politics editor James O'Toole contributed.


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