PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — It’s not yet a done deal, but on Sunday, Port Authority bus drivers took a giant step to enabling the restoration of public transit service cuts in September.
“They’ve given up a ton, let me just tell you that. In the last five years, in the last two contracts, it’s over $100 million in concessions that we’ve given back,” says Steve Palonis, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union.
The new contract that includes a two-year wage freeze won’t alone save public transit. The Port Authority management must come up with an additional $10 million, the county — another $5 million — and the state a whopping $30 million.
Neither Governor Corbett’s office nor Allegheny County executive Rich Fitzgerald would say Monday where that money is coming from.
“We’ll talk about that tomorrow. I don’t want to jump on what the state is going to talk about. We’re going to have folks from the governor’s office, probably the governor himself. The state legislature, representatives, we’re going to have a lot of folks who can probably answer those questions.”
But KDKA Money Editor Jon Delano has learned that Corbett is likely to use a Rendell tactic — “flexing” $30 million in money from other transportation projects to give the Port Authority a one-time fix while Corbett convinces legislators to approve a long-term solution.
“We realize that there wasn’t going to be a dedicated stream of funding until after the November election,” says Palonis. “So, in essence, they’re probably going to have to flex some money to get us through June of 2013, and hopefully they can get a comprehensive transportation bill signed off before June of 2013.”
So where would the cash-strapped county come up the dollars? On camera, Fitzgerald would not rule out higher taxes.
Delano: “Could you raise the drink tax?”
Fitzgerald: “We’re going to talk about that tomorrow. We’re not going to give you anything, Jon. We’re going to hold you in abeyance until tomorrow.”
Delano: “Might you raise the drink tax?”
Fitzgerald: “We’re going to talk about that tomorrow.”
Fitzgerald won’t say it — but there are no votes on county council to raise taxes.
County controller Chelsa Wagner says there is, however, a $4.5 million fund balance from the drink and car rental tax that is not currently being used for public transit. She says, use it.
“I think the decision is really clear. We can build up the fund balance over time. But instead make sure we fund transit that really helps in the everyday lives of everyone in Allegheny County right now,” adds Wagner.
As for state funding, Palonis says if Corbett fails to act, the new contract language approved 10-to-1 by drivers on Sunday will be void.
Palonis: “If the state doesn’t come through — and they do shut down Collier garage or they do lay off a number of people — then it’s not our fault, then it will go back to the state, we’re going to go back to the contract, and we’re going to have to rehash out where we are at today.”
Delano: “So the contract you just approved would be void?”
Palonis: “It would void. In essence, it would be void.”