Allegheny County Council President Jim Burn is trying to pressure the Port Authority to use all of the $45 million in emergency flex funds it received in December from the state rather than spreading it out over 18 months. Riders' groups and the union representing bus drivers want the money used now to avoid a 15% cut in service and the layoffs of hundreds of workers effective March 27. PAT CEO Steve Bland says spreading out the flex funds will give state lawmakers more time to find a permanent funding stream for mass transit.
Burn says the PAT Board said last fall that it faced a $47 million shortfall and the Southwest Pennsylvania Commission agreed to "flex" the $45 million that was originally designated for road projects and send them to PAT because of the emergency nature of the transit agency's deficit.
“The purpose of the ask for the money was to stop any service cuts. By stretching the money over 18 months, they are going to make service cuts,” Burn says.
Burn says PAT has cut more than $50 million from its operating budget at the urging of the state but it now appears state funding for PAT will be $30 million less in 2011-12 than it is in the current fiscal year. The councilman says the state has not lived up to the terms of Act 44 for funding roads, bridges and mass transit. Burn says that means the required county match would also decline by nearly $5.1 million, and he will introduce an amendment calling for a reduction in county funding by that amount because he refuses to over-subsidize the organization (PAT) that he says “refuses to keep its word to the public.”
“Once they got the money, we are concerned that they then began to act in a fashion inconsistent with the initial ask,” Burn says. “We want them to use this money in a fashion consistent with what they had asked for in the first place.”(to eliminate the $47 million deficit for the current year)
Burn says he and his fellow colleagues in agreement with him on the council are willing to rescind this proposal if the PAT Board decides to use the state-allocated money in full this fiscal year.