Port Authority board compromise reached

Senate to take up bill reducing county appointees from nine to four

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HARRISBURG -- A compromise agreement to a bill that would have stripped the Allegheny County executive of most of his appointments to the Port Authority board is expected to pass the state Senate today.

The proposed legislation would give the county executive four appointments to the Port Authority's board; a bill put forth last week in the Senate would have given that office only one appointment. The county executive currently appoints nine members to the board.

The amended bill would give five appointments to the state -- one to the governor and one each to Democratic and Republican caucuses in the House and Senate -- and six to the county: four appointments would come from the county executive and two would come from county council members of the opposite party of the executive. Two of the county executive's four appointments would need to come from a list of potential appointees developed by disability groups, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission.

"I certainly believe this is a better working board for the county executive, who is ultimately responsible for the port authority's operation," said Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills. "Just giving him one pick ... I just didn't think was appropriate."

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald blasted the original bill last week as politically motivated. That legislation would have also given an appointment to the mayor of Pittsburgh and given more authority to county council, in addition to the five state appointees.

A spokesman for House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, declined to comment on the specifics of the amended bill without having seen it, but said the House leadership supports changing the makeup of the board to give the state more appointments.

State funds make up 54 percent of the Port Authority's operating budget.

Earlier Monday, officials from the Port Authority and other mass transit agencies testified before the House transportation committee on their need for dedicated funds to maintain service.

The Port Authority hiked fares in 2008, 2011 and 2012, making its base fare of $2.50 the highest in the state and among the highest in the nation, said Ellen McLean, the agency's chief financial officer and interim CEO. The transit agency has also cut personnel and legacy costs through union concessions and has become leaner "on virtually every financial front," Ms. McLean said.

A major transportation proposal now before the House would raise $2.5 billion annually in new annual revenue for roads, bridges and public transit. The legislation passed the Senate earlier this month, but faces an uncertain future in the more conservative House.

But mass transit agencies could still face an uphill battle in the House, if some questions asked by lawmakers at Monday's hearing are any indication of their views.

"Do welfare recipients ride for free?" asked Rep. Jerry Knowles, R-Schuylkill, questioning an official from the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority.

Public assistance recipients do not ride SEPTA for free.

Mass transit funding in particular could face an uphill battle in the House, if some questions asked by lawmakers at Monday's hearing are any indication.

"Do welfare recipients ride for free?" asked Rep. Jerry Knowles, R-Schuylkill, questioning an official from the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority.

Individuals receiving public assistance do not ride for free, said SEPTA General Manager Joseph Casey.

The transportation funding bill has garnered support from business and labor groups as well as legislative heavy-hitters.

Former Gov. Ed Rendell sent a letter to all House members last week, urging them to support the measure.

"I know that many predict dire political consequences in 2014 for those who support this tax increase," Mr. Rendell wrote, referring to the bill's lifting of a cap on a tax paid by gasoline suppliers, which could be passed along to consumers in the form of higher prices at the pump.

"From personal experience, I can tell you this -- it is not true. Those who support tax increases do not face certain electoral defeat. I advocated for, and signed into law, a significant tax package in my first term as Governor and was re-elected by a margin of more than 20 points. In fact, I signed a 0.27 percent increase in the state income tax, from 2.8 percent to 3.07 percent."

A full-page ad urging the governor and legislators to support "sufficient, comprehensive and sustainable funding for Pennsylvania's transportation network" is slated to run in Pittsburgh and Harrisburg newspapers today.

It is signed by several dozen business leaders, including CEOs such as Jeffrey Romoff, of UPMC and John Surma of U.S. Steel and Jared Cohon, president of Carnegie Mellon University.

region - Transportation - electionsmunicipal

Kate Giammarise: kgiammarise@post-gazette.com, 1-717-787-4254 or on Twitter @KateGiammarise. First Published June 18, 2013 12:00 AM


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