No, State Cash for Pittsburgh Transit Is Not a “Bailout”

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I’m not surprised to see the usual conservative elements misrepresenting the situation with the Port Authority of Allegheny as a “bailout”, but I am disappointed to see ordinary reporters like Tim McNulty using the term. In addition to being politically-charged, it’s simply inaccurate.

The starting point for any conversation about the Port Authority’s finances should be this:

It also has unconventional language that is intended to motivate state and county officials to enact a long-term solution to the authority’s chronic funding problems. Fares have been increased four times and service cut three times in the past decade, not including the scheduled Sept. 2 reductions that would be the largest in the agency’s 48-year history and leave riders with about half of the service that existed at the start of last year.

The authority relies on the state for more than half of its operating funds, but those contributions have been flat or decreasing for several years, including a $34 million cut in the 2010-11 fiscal year. Transit advocates for years have urged the Legislature to enact a funding method that produces a reliable and growing stream of revenue so the agency can keep pace with inflation.

The state is responsible for half of the Port Authority’s operating funds. The state has been cutting funding for the Port Authority, by $34 million just last year, and therefore there is a deficit.

The state is cutting funding because Tom Corbett refuses to lead, and won’t endorse his own transportation commission’s funding recommendations – recommendations that have been endorsed by everyone from Republican Party leadership in the legislature, to leading state and regional business organizations, to the opposition party, who even introduced them as a bill.

Everyone is waiting for Tom Corbett to get behind his own plan, and he won’t do it. The state gas tax needs to be uncapped, and it needs to be indexed to inflation. Corbett doesn’t want to do that, so nothing’s happening, and all the state’s transportation infrastructure is going to pot. That means roads and bridges and it also means mass transit. The same funding crunch is happening to SEPTA on the other side of the state.

What just happened in Allegheny County is that workers made $60 million in concessions, the state gave back $30 million of the $34 million it cut last year, and the County is now going to contribute some funding too.

It’s just stupid to call this a bailout. “Bailout” to most people suggests irresponsible behavior on the part of the entity who’s being bailed out. It seems to me that is not the case here. The funding woes are mainly the result of state cuts and increasing pension obligations. Even if you think the Port Authority overpromised on pensions, it’s not clear what they can do to fix that without pension reform at the state level. I don’t know how you can look at this mess and not come away with the impression that the state is primarily responsible.

To put this in the context of state economic politics, I’ll just note once again that the Pittsburgh metro region is PA’s second largest economy, and their employment numbers are surging right now. $30 million is a paltry paltry sum for the state to pay to avoid having the economic rebound there grind to a halt. It is completely insane that the same people who want to give away unlimited money for fewer than 20,000 Shell cracker jobs think that $30 million is too much to help support one of the few economic bright spots in the state.

Think about that: unlimited money…likely more than $2 billion…for at most 20,000 jobs… in the middle of nowhere. Versus $30 million to prevent the state’s second largest economy from taking a serious body blow.

This entry was posted in Budget, Transportation.

3 Responses to No, State Cash for Pittsburgh Transit Is Not a “Bailout”

  1. Bram R says:

    Yes, to put a fine point on it, you can’t “bail out” something that is your responsibility. When my refrigerator is empty, I don’t “bail out” my family by going shopping.

  2. JB says:

    Your “Tim McNulty using the term” link goes to a P-G article by Jon Schmitz…?