Pressure situation: Action on transportation is needed all around

March 7, 2012 12:00 am

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Gov. Tom Corbett is right to pressure the Port Authority for a cost-cutting contract to take effect July 1.

The governor's aim was spelled out last week by a spokesman who said Mr. Corbett would not "fork over" additional state funding to help the transit system close a $64 million deficit and avoid crippling service cuts until he sees "what sort of cost savings are accomplished" in the talks.

County transit riders, who for years have been stung by state cutbacks, higher fares and reduced service, want to see the savings, too, because if the system doesn't work for them, then the region's economy and quality of life become the victims.

That said, the governor must also recognize the vital role that the state must play in keeping transit service strong for Pennsylvania businesses and workers. While he is eager to see progress on budgeting for transit by Port Authority negotiators, Mr. Corbett has been delinquent in budgeting for Pennsylvania's overall transportation needs.

Last August his handpicked Transportation Funding Advisory Commission turned in $2.7 billion of recommendations on how Pennsylvania could fund the repair of deteriorating roads, weight-limited bridges and under-achieving transit systems. Seven months later, Mr. Corbett has yet to say publicly whether he even likes the ideas. That's not taking charge.

Yet he wants Port Authority management and union leaders to produce a cost-cutting settlement. The public gets that, but what it doesn't get is his poor example.

The transit system's history is to run out the clock on negotiations. In 2005 and 2008, the parties were not able to reach an accord until four months after the previous contract had expired. That's late, but it still beats Mr. Corbett's tardiness on engaging his commission's report by three months.

In its last agreement, Port Authority negotiators reached a deal that saved the system $93 million by cutting retirement benefits and shifting health costs to employees. Without those gains, the agency would have had to cut service again.

Now the bus and light rail program must find more savings. To close its deficit, the Port Authority has proposed 25- and 50-cent fare increases in July (the third in five years), a 35 percent service cut in September (after a 15 percent reduction last year) and 500 to 600 layoffs (after 500 positions have been eliminated since 2007).

The higher fares, the inability to get around and the lost jobs are real and will be painful. That's why Gov. Corbett is right to drive home the need for a cost-cutting Port Authority contract.

But who will drive home to Tom Corbett the need for him to act, too?

First Published 2012-03-06 23:19:47

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