State Senate president's bill would revamp Port Authority

by: Rick Wills, TribLIVE Updated:


The president of Pennsylvania's Senate says he'll introduce legislation to restructure the Port Authority of Allegheny County, whose financial woes he calls chronic and unsustainable, and strip most of the power from the county executive to appoint members to the agency's board.

“They are statewide dollars funding PAT. We really need to have a better sense of control of how this money is spent. This has been a problem for years,” said Joe Scarnati, a Jefferson County Republican and Senate president pro tempore.

The legislation would allow county Executive Rich Fitzgerald to appoint one member to the nine-member board, but would put the rest under the control of the governor, legislative leaders, Allegheny County Council and Pittsburgh's mayor.

Fitzgerald said Scarnati's statements contain a number of inaccuracies.

“I, along with any members of the county delegation, would be happy to sit down with him and talk about the authority's achievements over the past few years related to service efficiency, addressing of legacy costs, increased revenues and economic development opportunities if he would like a better understanding of the agency,” Fitzgerald said.

Rep. Jeffrey Pyle, an Armstrong County Republican and member of the House transportation committee, said he would favor Scarnati's plan.

“In the House, it would have a very good chance. Everyone knows the issues with Port Authority, and something's got to give.” Pyle said.

“There needs to be more shared services, more connectivity. Why do have all these separate transit agencies in Western Pennsylvania?”

The Port Authority receives $150 million in state money each year. Additional money has been allocated to close deficits, Scarnati said.

Scarnati said his proposal will be included in a transportation bill he hopes the Legislature will pass this spring.

“Given the recent fiasco surrounding the dismissal of the former CEO (Steve Bland, whom Port Authority fired last month at Fitzgerald's behest), it is clear that the policy being set by the county executive is not moving the Port Authority in the right direction,” Scarnati said.

He said his proposal would make the Port Authority's structure similar to that of the state's largest mass transit system, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, which is run by board members appointed by both state and local officials.

“The Pittsburgh system has higher deficits, higher pension costs and more cuts in service. SEPTA has a much better track record with its balance sheets,” Scarnati said.

SEPTA also is regional and covers a multi-county area. Both Scarnati and Fitzgerald say they favor a regional system for the Pittsburgh area.

“I have long been an advocate for a regional transit, multi-county approach to mass transit, similar to that of the SEPTA system. A SWPTA system, if you will, would clearly require a new, reconstituted board that includes representation from every county and agency that would be involved in that regional system,” Fitzgerald said.

This article was written by Channel 11’s news exchange partners at TribLIVE.