Jonah McAllister-Erickson and Molly Nichols / Public transit still needs to be saved
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We got lucky this time around. Port Authority drivers and mechanics made huge sacrifices this past Sunday to prevent the looming cuts in bus service. But this is only a temporary fix and an unfair one at that.
Transit workers ensure that bus and T riders get to work, the grocery store and the doctor every day. They ensure that the roads are less crowded and the air is cleaner. They have once again agreed to cuts in their own pay, benefits and retirement. On top of the millions of dollars in concessions they've made in previous years, they've given up another $60 million from their wages and benefits, all in order to save Allegheny County from a devastating 35 percent service reduction.
But guess what? Our state-elected officials are still sitting back and refusing to provide adequate reliable funding for public transit. Each year we face a funding crisis in the Port Authority. Each year we are told the Port Authority has to "learn to live within its means" and has to improve "efficiency."
This means that each year the workers have to take pay cuts, freezes and fewer benefits -- or lose their jobs. Riders lose service or have to pay higher fares. Also, each year, Harrisburg provides fewer and fewer funds for transit service: $27 million lost in 2010 and $25 million lost since then.
The drivers and mechanics working for the Port Authority have given up all that they can, and then some. Pittsburghers are paying as much as they can for bus and T fares, and then some. Last year, many lost bus service altogether.
Meanwhile, corporations in this town -- both for-profit and "non-profit" -- have thousands of workers who use those buses and the T to get to work every day and these same corporations have done nothing to avert these yearly fare hikes, cuts in service and layoffs. Instead, they've taken advantage of loopholes and tax exemptions to amass record profits. For example, the so-called non-profit UPMC -- the largest employer in town -- made over $700 million in profit just last year.
Every year, working people in Pittsburgh sacrifice more and have less, while Harrisburg doles out more money in tax cuts to the wealthy and the corporations.
The $275 million wasted by phasing out the capital stock and franchise taxes just this year is more than four times the amount needed to fix the Port Authority budget. And the state fails to collect $500 million in corporate taxes each year because Harrisburg politicians refuse to ban a corporate accounting trick called the "Delaware loophole."
We could actually expand service with these funds.
Now the politicians will once again congratulate themselves on a job well done: they've made those with the least money foot the bill so that those with the most can take more. They'll tell you not to worry: crisis averted. What they won't tell you is that next year, we'll face another funding crisis, and we'll still have the same problem: no dedicated public funding for transit in Allegheny County.
This reliable funding is the only way to solve the seemingly permanent budget deficit crisis in Allegheny County public transit. We demand that the state stop making cuts to the Port Authority's budget. Stop placing the burden for public goods and services on the backs of workers and riders. Start making the wealthiest and the corporations pay their fair share instead.
This should be something that urban, suburban, small-town and rural Pennsylvanians can all agree on. After all, roads and bridges in rural Pennsylvania are subsidized by taxpayers in the urban areas, just as urban transit systems are subsidized by small-town Pennsylvania.
Politicians all over the state must hear from their constituents: we need a funding solution for both problems by getting money from the people who can afford to pay.
We ask our fellow Pittsburghers to raise their voices and join us in a fight to solve the public transit crisis in this town once and for all. We demand dedicated, sustainable, state funding for transportation and public transit in Allegheny County.
First Published August 21, 2012 12:00 am