Port Authority Pleads its Case to RAD

Sep 7, 2012

The Port Authority of Allegheny County is counting on The Allegheny Regional Asset District (RAD) to contribute $3 million for ten years to help open the door for state funding.

At RAD's budget request hearing Thursday, Port Authority CEO Steve Bland and Jennifer Liptak, chief of staff for Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, made the argument to board members that public transit should be considered a regional asset, and therefore eligible for funding.

RAD was created in 1993 to provide grants to local non-profits deemed to be assets to the region. Funding comes from half of the proceeds of an additional one percent sales tax levied in Allegheny County.  It normally goes to libraries, theaters, music groups, parks and sports facilities.

According to PAT CEO Steve Bland the authority has worked hard to negotiate “substantial financial commitments” in order to keep public transit afloat.

“The Commonwealth has committed $30 million annually. The ATU [Amalgamated Transit Union] Local 85 workers agreed to a contract with $60 million [in concessions], that’s $15 million a year in a four year period in givebacks,” said Bland. “The Port Authority management reductions for that same period total $40 million. And the county has committed an additional $1.5 million in existing drink tax and car rental tax.”

Bland said to receive the state funding, local government has to match the state's portion at a 15 percent rate. With Allegheny County’s $1.5 million there is still a need for $3 million.

He said after the collapse of Act 44, which would have tolled I-80 and used the proceeds, in part, to fund mass transit, the Port Authority was forced to put a plan on the table to institute a 35 percent service reduction that would have gone into effect this September.

Bland said the $3 million is needed to fund PAT. He said if the local contribution is cut the state will do the same and the federal government will follow.

Jennifer Liptak said the county could fund PAT the needed $3 million with out RAD's help, but it would come in the way of increased taxes.

“Our choice would be to raise the drink tax, raise property tax, or use a mechanism that’s already in place and the economy has shown has been growing substantially, to not apply additional tax burden on the taxpayers.”

RAD Board member Jackie Dixon questioned Liptak and Bland as to why the City of Pittsburgh is not contributing any money, considering most of PAT's riders live in Pittsburgh or commute into the city. She said for the city not to pay for public transit while county, state, and federal money is going into the system, “something is wrong with that.”

Converting busses to run off of natural gas was also brought up by the RAD board. Bland said they are working with the Heinz Endowments to fund feasibility studies.

RAD Board member Paul Gitnik stated that the natural gas industry needs to be doing more in order to show its support to the region.

“This is the time for the natural gas industry to step up,” said Gitnik. “Time for that industry to come forward and actually show people in the area what they are made of.”

RAD’s preliminary budget is scheduled to be released on September 27th. After that, the District will hold a public hearing before releasing the 2013 budget during the last week in November.