All nine members of the board of the Port Authority of Allegheny County are appointed by the County Executive. Pennsylvania State Representative Chelsa Wagner of the South Hills says that needs to change.
“Not having any kind of diversity on that board is pretty problematic in terms of a stake holder perspective,” says Wagner. She has introduced a bill that would give each of the four legislative caucuses the ability to each appoint one board member, the Governor would get one appointment, the city of Pittsburgh one appointment and the three remaining members would continue to be appointed by the County Executive. Wagner says that makes sure there is diversity of opinion on the board. “I think it is very important since more than 60% of the operating budget comes from the state, we need to make sure that the state has a place at the table,” says Wagner.
Wagner introduced similar legislation in 2006 but it died in committee. She says members were afraid to take up the bill for fear that it would lead to reopening act 44. At the time the state was still lobbying the federal government to toll I-80 and any changes to the act could have derailed that effort. Washington eventually rejected the tolling plan and Wagner feels that makes passage at this time a bit more easy. “I think that the timing is certainly right for it now,” says Wagner.
Wagner says she introduced the bill in 2006 in reaction to the funding crisis facing PAT at the time, and she notes the Authority’s finances are not getting any better. “If time and time again we are coming back to the same problem this is not merely an issue of funding,” says Wagner, “We have to really look at the entire governing structure.”
At the same time Wagner stress that this is not an indictment of the current members of the board.
Wagner says she is open to negotiations on the distribution of board members. She knows it may be hard to give the city a seat at the table. “The difficulty with the city appointment is that we get some push back because the city itself does not contribute to the budget of the port Authority.” Wagner says the city should have representation on the board due to its roll as a hub for the region and due to the high percentage of residents who use the system.