Friday, September 27, 2013

Pass Transportation Funding! Make the Governing Happen! And other tales...

Old Tappan Schools


There are doings a'transpiring on the transportation bill...

House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, who opposes [Senate Bill 1], said he intends to call a vote.

That could come as early as next week. (Trib, Brad Bumstead)

If the House really has absorbed that it needs to once again do basic Government 101 stuff (without being distracted by dueling liquor trick-shots) then better late than never. Good job, fellas! Cometmaniacs, if you ever travel on any roads and bridges, ride on buses or subways, or know anyone socially or professionally who does, now is a truly excellent time to WUPHF your legislators (both D's and R's) and firmly recommend that they ought to keep the trains running on time.

Iiiiiiiif however the plan is to get everybody ginned up to pass "Senate Bill 1" and then amend it by decreasing its total funding allocation to, say, $4.37 and a coupon for half off a 6-inch Quiznos sub -- and then bounce the legislation back to a strongly-unified Senate so we can all finger-wag for another year -- that would be most unfortunate.

Rumor has it that Turzai may try to resurrect the Hess Amendment:

The sweeping amendments to a Senate-approved transportation bill would eliminate many of the fee increases on motorists that were aimed at raising more money for public transit. The amendments would also require Philadelphia and other local governments to pay a higher share of the costs of transit and would allow counties to levy a $5-per-vehicle fee on local residents, as well as to raise sales taxes, realty-transfer taxes, and earned-income taxes. (Inky, Paul Nussbaum)

In other words, state funding for transit would be thrown under the bus, but metro areas are told they can always pick up the entire tab themselves if they can stand it. But we've been here before.

Obligatory duck
We know that steeper and "left-field" taxes are not really a practical option at the local level due to competitive pressures from just two miles down the road. We know that fees on motorists make intuitive sense for transportation, and that broad-based efforts distribute the burden. We know that as things stand, urban motorists are disproportionately subsidizing rural motorists in a number of ways, and that's not even going to change. And we can see that the businesses community understands perfectly well how public transit is important to state and regional competitiveness and healthy bottom lines.

The only folks who don't choose to acknowledge all of that are the truly radical anti-state fundamentalist clerics. Let's try to resist giving the Commonwealth over to them. We have real jobs to do. Let's pass the popular Republican Senate bill and move on.

*-UPDATE: There is another rumor going around as to how even a "clean" version of SB1 might get voted down, which is too whackadoo for me even to think about except to say it's definitely Harrisburg enough. Call your Democrats. (Keystone Politics; see also PoliticsPA)


It's a shame we can't implode the Stadium Authority immediately, but hastening that day is better than nothing. It will be nice when the land between PNC Park and Heinz Field is... uh... just like the rest of our City. (P-G, Mark Belko)

It's probably starting to sound really silly to say things like, "Whoever that next mayor turns out to be." (Trib, Bob Bauder; Bill Zlatos)

I know I linked to this story already, but about the "crystal glassware"... we're starting to hear rumors about a certain company making these annual custom-engraved sets. Why would the Steelers choose to give those to public officials? There's a lot I don't understand about business. (P-G, Moriah Balingit)

Our buddy Hank Sciortino dahn' the ICA got a raise, despite everything. (P-G, More Iah Balingit) Several of you are outraged over this, with particular respect to how the oversight board withheld millions of dollars of the City's share of gaming revenue for months upon months, and ultimately released it without the accumulated interest... interest which probably was used to pay for Hank's exorbitant salary and vacation time. Well, the Pittsburgh Comet is outraged too! Duly! Two-timing ninnies.

Here are some tweets from last night's District 7 event. On Wednesday the 9th, the Bloomfield Citizens Council is hosting a forum among all candidates moderated by KDKA's lead non-Marty Griffin investigator Andy Sheehan.

Have a fabulous weekend!


  1. Okay,we public transit advocates are hearing that the Dems are smelling Corbett blood in the water and are morphing into frenzied sharks, ready to vote no even on the original version of Senate Bill 1, which was no banquet for public transit but would have kept Port Authority and SEPTA afloat for the next near-decade - along with all those jobs and businesses and the attendant urban taxes to pay for everything else in the state budget.

    Evidently they want to make the Governor look bad just before election year. Corbett already looks really, really bad even if the Dems help pass a transportation bill that will fulfill the most basic needs of the people who voted for them.

    So, all yinz out there who want the buses to keep rolling, the potholes to be filled, the bridges not to fall down on our heads, please call your legislators, Democrat or Republican, and talk some common sense to them. Please urge them to vote for the ORIGINAL Senate Bill 1 (printer number1162) that includes the minimum funding to prevent major public transit service cuts, not to mention fixing the decaying roads and bridges that we all need to roll on forward.

    1. Hey Dems. If you vote against the original SB1 to make Corbett look bad, it will backfire. Some of your supporters enjoy being intellectually honest. Reporters also tend to relish such opportunities.

      Truly, this cannot be the plan.

    2. Can't I just send an email, because lazy.

    3. YES!!! And then twist somebody else's arm to plagiarize any of this info that they want to, even if by copy-paste, and hit the send button!

      With big thanks to our co-authors, our diligent transit advocate allies, Go Burgh:



    1. Sounds like a technicality that has been very long in abeyance, if Senate leadership acted as though totally unaware... if we know the mind of the Senate, can't Wheatley and the rest of the House introduce its own copy of SB1 and the Senate just "re-pass" it?

  3. You're assuming the House has any appetite to just "pass it clean" in the first place?

    1. We have been assuming that - for lack of any rational indications that we ought not do so. I assume at least a fair number of Republicans, just as Corbett, would be eager to rectify this issue. And we assume all Democrats would as well -- that is, outside of unnecessary, stunningly counterproductive and possibly life-threatening gubernatorial gamesmanship. Where and how exactly are those assumptions flawed, we are all eager to learn? Spare no detail.

  4. Alright, we're going to let this sit until somebody makes a next move, but this smells like a medium-rare Harrisburger with the works.

    1. I wonder if this deadlock over a not-previously-noted technicality might also smell somewhat of gas. Of fermenting compromise deals perhaps not of the present governor's liking but perhaps of pecuniary and political advantage both to moderate Republicans who wish to dump their lead balloon and to Democratic hopefuls who can gain a great deal from looking both practical and "moderate."

      And if Democrats oh so "bravely" tax Marcellus Shale a "moderate" percentage and also very publicly demand that public transit be funded along with Saccone's favored bridges, they can help set up Schwartz for the big slam dunk:
      "Allyson’s Plan for “One Pennsylvania”

      This non-renewable resource presents the Commonwealth with an extraordinary opportunity. These resources belong to the people of Pennsylvania and they deserve a fair deal and a lasting positive legacy for the Commonwealth. This legacy should be world-class schools, a 21st century transportation network, clean and cheap energy, and new jobs that can power our economy for the future.

      So, to sum up this speculation, I'm wondering if the gamesmanship on both sides of the aisle might converge something like this: "Let SB1 die over it's newly discovered unconstitutionality, and then with a convincing tussle to include public transit in that Saccone proposal to tax Marcellus Shale for transportation (instead of potentially vengeful taxpaying driver-voters) for previously forbidden drilling of protected forest lands, we got our win/win/win."

    2. I am unaware of any Dem gov candidates who don't want to frack for cash, and precious few Dem legislators who prefer a "moratorium" to higher extraction taxes and more impact fees in this place called Pennsylvania. And I admit while chewing over the consequences of $100 extra per auto registration and per moving violation, my own mind went to, "Man this would be a lot simpler if we could tax our world record setting energy production industry as high as, say, Oklahoma."

      My issues are 1) the timeline; how long will this gambit take and what happens to transit in the meanwhile, let alone a bridge collapse 2) even if we get a Dem governor, do we really expect both houses of the Leg to just roll over and play ball 3) the optics of Dems so transparently turning over the moral authority on critical infrastructure after all this buildup and 4) well, getting structurally addicted to fracking doesn't seem like the best idea.

  5. SB1 plus authorization for more local funding might be the best possible outcome. On that subject:

    "We know that steeper and 'left-field' taxes are not really a practical option at the local level due to competitive pressures from just two miles down the road."

    Care to elaborate? I might note I highly doubt slightly higher Allegheny County taxes used to fund better transportation in Allegheny County would actually do anything to blunt Allegheny County's economic growth, and in fact if anything I think it would help.

    Of course screwing Allegheny County even worse than it is already getting screwed on the state funding side, as the Tea Party-types in the House want to do, would itself be a bad thing. But otherwise giving Allegheny County more tools to do its own transportation funding its own way would likely be a good thing, so if you could do the latter without doing the former that could work out well.

    1. I hadn't considered the notion of adding those local funding options over top of SB1 funding, and I don't think anyone else has either. But that's alright, we don't need to limit ourselves to legislators' constructs, and besides it might conceivably form the basis of compromise.

      As far as the point on local taxes and competitive pressures, I haven't done the math but my impression is that SB1 funding is so significant (in its bare adequacy) that a local sales taxes hike high enough to replace it, for example, really would be the kind of thing to disincentivize business. Similarly a higher income tax locally might encourage sprawl over reinvestment. And do we even seriously collect the real estate transfer tax?

    2. The real problem in those scenarios is the state would be collecting a lot more in taxes from Allegheny County without giving nearly as much back. That's bad, but if that was a given, then I am pretty sure more local taxes paying for more local transportation would still be a competitive positive from that bad baseline.

      Of course if spiking the local funding element could actually prevent the House tea-party-types' preferred state funding scenario from happening, then it might well be worth spiking it. But I am not sure that tie really exists.