Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Letters to the editor, 10/13/04

PG Letters to the editor, 10/13/04 Understand how Port Authority budgets work

Based on recent letters to the editor, it is clear that many readers grapple with the intricacies of funding transportation. First, a brief lesson.

Port Authority has two pots of money to draw from: one is for capital expenditures (such as the Overbrook line and North Shore project), the other is for operating expenses (such as driver salaries, health care for employees and diesel fuel, to name a few). Because the Port Authority is a quasi-governmental agency and receives funding from government sources, there are strict rules about how money from the pots can get used. So, while money exists to fund the Overbrook line and North Shore project, that money cannot be used to buy diesel fuel or pay drivers.

The pot of money for operations is empty. Without changes in the way Pennsylvania funds transportation, that pot is going to stay very empty. But the implications for both pots are greater than many realize.

By undertaking the North Shore project, federal dollars will be used, which in turn will fund jobs for local workers on the construction project. If the Port Authority does not undertake the North Shore project, those dollars will go to another project in another state. Thus Allegheny County will lose in two ways: money that will be paid to local workers for construction and the long-term benefits of extending light rail to the North Shore, with the potential to extend to areas such as Cranberry or the airport.

Likewise, the failure to properly fund day-to-day operations will have a huge impact on our region's economy.

Both pots need to have something in them. Unfortunately, one pot is already empty. Once you know the facts, the economics are simple.

The thinking above it typical of old-school Pittsburgh. The money is our money. We can take it out of the back pocket or take it out of the front pocket. Either way, the money is our money.

If the way it works is broken, and it is, then we should fix it. I don't want to build a meaningless tunnel just because the system is messed up. Few political leaders have the capacity nor the motivatation to try to grapple with these failures in our "way-it-works get-a-long." I would love to try to unravel these failures.

In other parts of the country, if not the world, people are not scared to stand-up and say "NO." When something isn't needed, it isn't made into a priority and money isn't spent on folly. If the bridge that gets built in Oregon is needed, while the tunnel under the river in Pittsburgh is not built -- fine. Pittsburgh does not loose when something Pittsburgh does not need is not built. Rather, we win when everyone does the right thing.

No comments: