Pennsylvania and Allegheny County officials today announced a short-term funding infusion that will avert record-breaking public transit service cuts next month but also insisted that they have arrived at a long-term solution to chronic financial problems at the Port Authority.
The state will provide $35 million in additional funding over the coming year but Gov. Tom Corbett is committed to longer-term investment to preserve transit service here now that the authority has reduced its spending, Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch said.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said the county will provide $4.5 million -- $1.5 million from surplus drink tax revenue and $3 million he will request from the Allegheny Regional Asset District.
The service cuts would have been the largest in the Port Authority's 48-year history.
"It's a historic day in Allegheny County," Mr. Fitzgerald said. "There will be no cuts on September 2nd and no local tax increase."
Mr. Schoch said the agreements secured a future for public transportation in Pittsburgh.
"It's important to the economy of Pittsburgh and so it's important to the economy of Pennsylvania," he said.
About one-third of the state money will come from transit capital reserves while the source of the remainder is not yet determined, he said.
But he said the governor is committed to funding transit.
Mr. Fitzgerald said he will ask the asset district board, made up of his and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's appointees, to make a $3 million annual commitment, not just a one-time grant.
The district draws its revenue from a 1 percent county add-on to the 6 percent state sales tax.
"Most communities across the country use sales tax as a means to fund transit," he said. "I can't think of a bigger regional asset that we have than transit."
The Port Authority's board of directors voted this morning to postpone for a year a 35 percent transit service reduction and layoffs of 560 employees scheduled to take effect Sept. 2.
The board also ratified a four-year contract with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85, which represents about 2,200 drivers, mechanics and first-level supervisors, retroactive to July 1.
The postponement of the cuts, until Aug. 31, 2013, would allow the planned cuts to take effect then without more public hearings should that funding not come through. If the money arrives as planned, the board can schedule another vote to cancel the cuts.
Noting Mr. Corbett's demand that the authority reduce costs before he would consider additional state funding, board vice chairman Guy Mattola said "we as a board are here to report 'mission accomplished.'"
In remarks before the unanimous votes postponing service cuts and approving a new four-year union contract, Mr. Mattola said "we all know that authority spending has not been the primary issue associated with our deficits over the past few years. Declining state funding over the past six years and flat county funding during that same period have had a devastating impact on our purchasing power. As we've said over and over, Pennsylvanians want and need a dedicated, reliable and predictable source of funding for public transportation that grows with inflation."
Addressing the board, Annette Kroll of Bridgeville, a regular rider who depends on transit, urged riders to "say a little thank you" to drivers for accepting the givebacks to save jobs and preserve service.
"I think they should be applauded for doing the right thing for everyone," she said.
The board also adopted an amended budget reflecting the cost savings from the new contract and anticipated increases in state and county funding.
While the mood at the meeting was mostly celebratory, two nonunion authority employees spoke in protest of unilateral wage freezes and benefit reductions that have been imposed on management over the past several years, including a 6 percent increase in pension contributions that the board approved today.
Mike Heidkamp, manager of way, auto fleet and heavy maintenance, said nonunion workers have had three pay freezes in five years while unionized workers got 15 percent increases in wages. They were stripped of their retirement health benefits while union workers continue to have them.
"We mean no disrespect," he told the board. "We feel our concerns needed to be voiced."
Board members said in addition to the union concessions, $10 million in savings was realized from measures affecting management.
"It is not just our union employees who are making these sacrifices," Mr. Mattola said. "It is all of our employees."homepage - breaking - region - Transportation
Jon Schmitz: email@example.com or 412-263-1868. First Published August 21, 2012 10:30 AM