Friday, September 7, 2012

Political Obstruction Works Here

Since RAD and the Port Authority share an attorney, the board of RAD is paying an outside lawyer $275 an hour to figure out whether it can fund Port Authority transit and thus avert the collapse of a fragile deal between the workers and state government.

The total legal bill should come to about $70 or a long liquid lunch.

All the Port Authority would have to do is to qualify as a "civc asset" in the minds of the RAD board itself, which is not remotely a stretch as these things go. Interpretable phrasing is there to interpret.

Some board members evidently felt the need to ask for a legal opinion either to provide them with political cover for making that leadership decision, or else drag this out further so as to continue poisoning the well against the deal.

There are three camps opposed to using the $3M in RAD money to leverage $30M from the state:

1) Ideologues to the political right of Tom Corbett who believe the biggest problem here is that the Port Authority is "addicted to money," who instead of supporting the compromise struck with the Governor would rather lock the Agency in a cell, starve and humiliate it until it dies, and replace it with something more private and less unionized.

2) Politicians who aren't wild about Rich Fitzgerald strutting around like he owns the joint, appointing notable crazy ladies to key advisory panels and saying "green this" and "I agree with my friend from the East End" that.

3) Folks who are anxious that transit funding should not diminish support for cultural organizations, and may be susceptible to "slippery slope" arguments involving long-term commitments, water treatment plants and parking garages.

Group #1 obviously can't get its job done by itself. Group #2 is happy to support Group #1's work in stirring up taxpayer outrage and popular chaos (more mentions of the drink tax, please!) at least up until the point where transit actually explodes. But in dealing with the RAD board, on which Fitzgerald has the upper hand, neither can really gain traction unless they involve Group #3.

Hence the need for more time to wage more back room campaigns and manufacture more news stories which include the word "tax," as though they're being raised somewhere. The notoriously secretive "ripcord" clause in the new Port Authority contract can only be so hard to activate, right?


Pgh City Paper thinks the stability for transit and for other tax rates is worth it... Null Space notices the RAD tax didn't stop Allegheny County from outperforming most of the rest of the region.

Image: UFC, MMA Worldwide


  1. As I've said before, certainly I'm as died-in-the-wool a sports fan as the next native Pittsburgher, but it troubles me that many - including our Mayor - are inferring, and apparently wanting us to presume, that the RAD money tapped for transit will be taken from the smaller portion going to the artists rather than the large amounts benefiting the millionaire sports franchises.

    An asset is an asset, and RAD allocations must be determined by need.

    I love sports, too. Do we need to keep building new stadiums, even while we are paying off the debt on the ones we tear down? Even while players are making millions? What is the difference between making $11 million and making $12 million? Couldn't that player be paid a million less and have the sports team pay for more the venue in which they play? There are not a lot of local actors, singers, dancers, musicians, artists who make millions a year.

    Again, an asset is an asset, and RAD allocations must be determined by need. Done well, mass transit can be quiet an asset!

    Now, then. Will the RAD board be inquisitioning the PAT board as it does the nonprofits that come before it?

  2. Bram, what do you think about:

    Oversight of county transit to shift from Port Authority to Public Utility Commission

    Read more:

  3. flybylight - Indeed, I asked in another forum, whether in a long-term arrangement there might be a way to stipulate that IF sales tax receipts diminish and IF the fund balance shrinks to a certain level, THEN funds for transit get taken out of the very-well-capitalized institutions eg the pro sports teams.

    Helen - I'm not reflexively against private enterprise getting involved in an "also" kind of way, but I just don't know much about it yet.

  4. Hey Bram,

    Great blog!

    Here's an idea to mull over. In exchange for the support of the various arts organization for RAD funding of transit, what if PAT instituted promotions that supported the arts organizations. Offering bus passes for sale at reduced prices to members of the museum and other RAD organizations. Having cultural district bus excursion package deals - take the bus the CLO or Pgh Filmmakers for one combined lower price, etc.

  5. That is a -- really good idea, RFShunt.

    I wouldn't think PAT would have to give away the store exactly, since they're more or less in the drivers' seat with Fitzgerald's appointments on the board as it is. But in terms of forging a LONG-term committment, and getting the bedrock survival of the system off the region's front burner for a while... I like it. Best of all it means the whole ordeal could serve to heighten awareness of transit as a cultural asset among our family of great cultural resources and and so on..

  6. I wonder if promotion mightn't be even more valuable for those organizations. Stick brochures where the bus schedules (sometimes) go, put ads for them up where there are (usually) PSA's.

  7. Currently, those PSA's are a source of revenue for the Port Authority aren't they?

  8. There is space for transit advertising inside the buses behind the driver on the wall, above the seats between wall and ceiling on both sides, and on the outside sides of the buses. If they were actively selling, it would be a bigger source of revenue. Right now, we see only ads for marriage counseling and UPMC studies.

    Giving a discount for advertising on buses (or even free ads) above the seats to arts organizations could become a valuable commodity.

    The drivers should be putting their own schedules into those slots, but do not always do so. I hate taking a bus somewhere, wondering when the return bus will retrieve me, only to see some foreign schedule on the bus, and not the one I need.

    Things that make more passengers want to ride are things that make both the transit and the advertising on the transit more valuable.

  9. We used inside the bus ads for a couple of studies. It was a while ago, but I recall it as reasonably cost effective.

  10. If they're not actively soliciting ad sales on things they do sell ads on, a transit agency has a problem.

    Am not as excited about the outside-of-the-bus product as the opportunities inside.

  11. a cultural and recreational asset is what it is... now we can change those definitions like so many people who want to change the definition of marriage to accommodate what we want but a ducks still a duck!

  12. That's some cross-issue linkage you got going there.

    Flybynight is right about how many bus ads are for marriage counseling so I think it’s obvious that attacking the Port Authority is attacking marriage.

  13. failed govrmental agencies are a cancer on the backs of the taxpayer

  14. Anon 5:39: "Failed" as an adjective seems only to come up in political arguments... what's the point-of-no-return to "transform" or "reform" an agency?

  15. When it's a cancer on the sphincter of the taxpayers.

  16. Linking subtle references concerning civil rights & family equality to transit funding, then metastasizing a metaphoric cancer re taxes to the butthole muscle. Naw, no self-loathing gay guy choking on his own internalized homophobia here!