Port Authority changes in works

Bill would shift control of transit agency's board from county executive

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HARRISBURG -- A proposed bill in the state Senate would strip the Allegheny County executive of the power to shape the Port Authority board.

The bill, which was voted out of a Senate committee Monday, would give more power to state legislators to appoint the agency's board members.

The proposal, put forth by Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, a Republican from rural Jefferson County, would grant appointing authority for the board to a broader group of officials including the governor, legislative leaders, the Allegheny County executive, county council and the mayor of Pittsburgh.

Currently, all nine members of the board are appointed by the Allegheny County executive and approved by county council.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald blasted the bill Monday as politically motivated and Mr. Scarnati as unwilling to meet with him to discuss the matter.

Mr. Fitzgerald said he is not opposed to some board members being state appointees, but said as it stands now, he believes the bill would undo overhauls that have strengthened the Port Authority in the past 18 months such as $60 million in union concessions, work rule changes, a more proactive board in respect to economic development and more private contributions for sponsorships.

"You need to have somebody in charge. You cannot run this agency by committee," Mr. Fitzgerald said.

The Port Authority has struggled with route cuts, fare increases and retiree costs in recent years.

Mr. Scarnati's legislation would change the agency's board from nine to 11 members: one appointee from the governor, one from the Senate president pro tem, one from the Senate minority leader, one from the speaker of the House, one from the House minority leader, one appointee from the mayor of Pittsburgh, one from the Allegheny County executive and four jointly appointed by two at-large county council members.

The bill also directs PennDOT "to study and analyze potential modernization proposals ... including regionalization, consolidation, and privatization of services," according to a memo circulated about the bill. A report would then make recommendations to elected officials and the board "in regards to initiatives which could be undertaken to achieve cost-saving and efficiency goals."

Mr. Scarnati believes that since about half of the Port Authority's funds comes from the state, legislators should have more say than they do now.

"With all this state money going into it, I think the state has significant skin in the game and ought to have a seat at the table," he said.

State assistance accounts for 54 percent of the Port Authority's total operating budget, agency spokesman Jim Ritchie said. He said the agency has no position on the bill.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority -- which serves Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties -- has a board that includes appointees from the governor and House and Senate leaders.

Mr. Scarnati said he has spoken with Mr. Fitzgerald about the matter, as well as having met with Allegheny County Democratic senators such as Jay Costa, Jim Brewster and Jim Ferlo.

Mr. Fitzgerald "wants to keep some unbridled control over the entire authority," Mr. Scarnati said.

Mr. Scarnati's bill passed the Senate appropriations committee Monday by a 16-10 vote; it could get a vote before the full Senate as early as Wednesday.

Mr. Costa, of Forest Hills, the Senate's Minority leader who unsuccessfully offered amendments to the bill Monday, said he would favor appointments by the governor and legislative leaders -- but with four appointments continuing to be from the Allegheny County executive, as well as other appointments from Democrats and Republicans on county council.

Both Mr. Ferlo and Mr. Costa, speaking in a committee meeting Monday, called Mr. Scarnati's bill "overreaching."

region - electionspa - Transportation

Kate Giammarise: kgiammarise@post-gazette.com, 1-717-787-4254 and on Twitter: @KateGiammarise.


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