Transit union opposes stretching of funds
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The union representing Port Authority drivers and mechanics is opposed to a plan to make smaller transit service cuts and spread $45 million in emergency state funding over 18 months instead of six.
Patrick McMahon, president of Local 85, Amalgamated Transit Union, said in a letter this week that the union disagrees with a proposal to stretch the funding provided by Gov. Ed Rendell over a longer period. That presumably would give the Legislature and the incoming governor, Tom Corbett, more time to find a permanent solution to chronic transit funding problems.
Stretching the funding would require service cuts, but smaller than the record-breaking 35 percent reduction that was planned for March 13 before Mr. Rendell stepped in.
"The governor's intention was to prevent cuts in transit services in 2011, giving the new governor and Legislature six months to act on a transit funding formula that fairly and adequately provides for public transit at current levels," Mr. McMahon said in a letter to Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato.
"We believe our fight is now. ... Do not impose further pain on transit riders and commuters by misusing the funding the governor has delivered," he wrote.
Port Authority officials denied an allegation by a union spokesman that the board decided during a private conference call to cut service by 15 percent in March and close the Harmar bus garage.
AFL-CIO spokesman Marty Marks said such a call appeared to violate the state's open meetings law. "It's not fair to take the public out of the process," he said.
Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said there was a conference call on Dec. 8 to brief board members about the options for using the emergency funding. "There was no deliberation on [the board's] part and there was certainly no vote," he said.
"We haven't had that conversation yet," board Chairman Jack Brooks said. He said the board likely will hold a special meeting in early January to decide on a course of action.
The board voted last month to raise fares on Jan. 1 and cut service in March by 35 percent, eliminating 47 routes and more than 500 jobs, to fill a projected $47 million deficit in its 2010-11 budget.
Mr. Rendell on Dec. 2 announced that he had found $45 million that was unspent on other projects and could be used to balance the authority's budget through June 30 without service cuts.
The goal was to give Mr. Corbett and the Legislature time to address the larger issue of a statewide transportation funding shortfall caused by the Federal Highway Administration's rejection of the state's plan to toll Interstate 80.
The decision reduced the funding available for highways, bridges and transit from $922.5 million for fiscal 2010-11 to $450 million.
With the state facing a multibillion-dollar budget deficit of its own, some viewed the prospects for action on transportation funding by June to be remote.
Mr. Onorato floated the idea of stretching Mr. Rendell's emergency funding over 18 months, giving the new governor and Legislature an additional year to act. He did so just before a crucial vote of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, a regional planning agency, on whether to accept the money.
The funding was approved in a 27-22 vote.
"We respectfully disagree with your assertion the incoming Legislature needs eighteen months to solve transit funding inequities," Mr. McMahon wrote to Mr. Onorato.
"More than three-quarters of legislators are returning to serve another term. These issues are not new to them, and our new governor has been a statewide elected official for eight years, surely enough time to have become well-acquainted with high-profile, critical state issues affecting millions of our citizens."
"We agree with Local 85 that this isn't an ideal solution," Mr. Ritchie said. "What's needed, obviously, is a permanent solution to the statewide transportation funding crisis."
First Published December 23, 2010 12:00 am