State Sen. Joe Scarnati launched a scathing attack on Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald in a press release announcing that he plans to introduce legislation that would overhaul the Port Authority
Mr. Scarnati, R-Jefferson, said his plan would grant appointing authority for the board to an array of state and local officials including the governor, legislative leaders, Allegheny County Council and the mayor of Pittsburgh. Mr. Fitzgerald, who now appoints all full-voting members, would have a single appointment under Mr. Scarnati's plan.
"The Port Authority of Allegheny County has been a significant strain on state and local taxpayers for far too long and it is time the legislature address the issue," Mr. Scarnati said.
"Given the recent fiasco surrounding the dismissal of the former CEO, it is clear that the policy being set by the County Executive is not moving the Port Authority in the right direction," Mr. Scarnati continued. "Further, the raises which were granted to non-union employees, then rescinded the very next day, are just another example of the urgent need for a change in leadership at the Port Authority."
In a fairly measured rebuttal, Mr. Fitzgerald cited "inaccuracies'' in the GOP leader's statement, but said he would be happy to sit down with him and straighten him out. He added that he would be happy to talk about a reconstituted board structure in the context of an expanded, regional approach to mass transit.
You can read the Republican's press release and the county executive's reply after the jump:
Senator Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) announced today that he will soon be introducing legislation which will reform and restructure the Port Authority of Allegheny County.
“The Port Authority of Allegheny County has been a significant strain on state and local taxpayers for far too long and it is time the legislature address the issue,” Scarnati said.
The current Allegheny County Executive recently confirmed reports that he asked all board members to submit to him signed, undated resignation letters, and also stated his belief that he, alone, should set the policy and direction of the Port Authority.
“Given the recent fiasco surrounding the dismissal of the former CEO, it is clear that the policy being set by the County Executive is not moving the Port Authority in the right direction,” Scarnati continued. “Further, the raises which were granted to non-union employees, then rescinded the very next day, are just another example of the urgent need for a change in leadership at the Port Authority.”
Scarnati’s proposal would restructure the composition of the Port Authority Board. Currently, all nine full-voting members of the board are appointed by the Allegheny County Executive.
“To truly facilitate change at the Port Authority we need to start at the top,” Scarnati explained. “No one individual should have complete and unchecked control of the Board and its operations.”
Legislation Scarnati is proposing would grant appointing authority for the board to a broad array of state and local officials including the Governor, Legislative Leaders, Allegheny County Council and the Mayor of Pittsburgh. The Allegheny County Executive would retain only a single appointment to the newly restructured board.
The state’s largest mass transit system, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), is governed by a similarly structured board, also composed of members appointed by state and local officials.
“Given the ever-increasing amount of funding the state contributes to the Port Authority, it is appropriate for state officials to have a voice on the board,” Scarnati said. “It is also important that local influence on the board be attained from a diverse group of individuals. My proposal would allow various stakeholders a seat at the table in an effort to govern the Port Authority in the most efficient manner possible.”
Governor Corbett’s transportation funding proposal would potentially provide the Port Authority with an additional $9 million the first year, growing to more than $55 million by the fifth year. This funding would be in addition to the $30 million annual commitment from the state as part of a recent agreement to close a $64 million deficit at the Port Authority.
Not including the aforementioned totals, the Port Authority also receives over $150 million in state operating assistance annually. In addition, Governor Rendell repeatedly diverted hundreds of millions of dollars to the Port Authority in an attempt to address various fiscal crises in the past.
“Moving forward, all options need to be on the table when discussing ways to streamline operations and cut costs at the Port Authority, in order to relieve taxpayers of the heavy burden they are currently being asked to bear,” Scarnati explained.
Scarnati’s proposal would also commission a study to analyze potential modernization proposals including regionalization, consolidation, and privatization of services. A report would then be issued, making recommendations to elected officials and the restructured Port Authority Board in regards to initiatives which could be undertaken to achieve cost-savings and efficiency goals.
“I look forward to working with all interested parties to restructure and reform the Port Authority of Allegheny County in a manner which will provide efficient and reliable services at a reasonable cost to commuters and taxpayers alike,” Scarnati concluded.
From Mr. Fitzgerald:
“While we certainly appreciate the Senator from Jefferson County’s interest in the operations of the Port Authority of Allegheny County, there are many inaccuracies in his statement. 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.
“That being said, I have long been an advocate for a regional transit, multi-county approach to mass transit, similar to that of the SEPTA system. It is something that I advocated for and spoke about through my campaign, and have also addressed numerous times in my first 15 months in office. I have traveled to all of the surrounding counties to begin that conversation with the commissioners, and was pleased to see it included in the Governor’s budget address and transportation proposal. 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.”