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by stephen donahue Thursday, Oct. 07, 2004 at 12:03 PM

If anything good happens for public transit it won’t be till 5 min to midnight on the last day of the session.

On Tuesday, October 5 a bus load of public transit riders from Allegheny County and Washington County went to the Pennsylvania State Capitol to demand quick action on legislation that will increase dedicated funding for public transit in the state. They had a good time navigating the labyrinth of halls and getting the bums rush from most every but not all the legislative offices they stopped at. They even missed the Gov who was out to lunch so they wrote him a note and they all signed it.

Upon arriving back in Pittsburgh, these folks were surprised and angered to see the following headline on the front page of the Post-Gazette, “Legislators eye gas tax boost to save mass transit.” Hah? What’s this crap? Don’t they know that the sacred Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania does not allow money from the motor fuels tax to be used for public transit? Yea, they know that; but the legislators and the highway lobbyists are looking for some chumps to pin what will be a much hated gas tax hike on.

Now in the final weeks of the 2004 legislative session the shit has hit the fan and the word is out that even as gasoline prices climb so will the gasoline tax – maybe. Of course such a move will be hated by truckers and most automobile owners. A motor fuels tax hike has little chance of passing any time soon with the price at the pump exceeding $2/gallon. To force the issue legislators have made the survival of public mass transit in the state contingent on the passage of a much hated gas tax.

A deal has been cut. Unless the motor fuels tax is increased those who rely on the bus to get around can forget the passage of any bill that will increase state funding for public transit. That is why lawmakers can tell a BIG LIE and say, “We are increasing the gas tax to fund public transit.” What phony bull shit! They are increasing the gas tax to build and repair bridges & highways not to keep the Port Authority running.

A group of Port Authority riders called Save Our Transit has no stand on the proposed gas tax hike. Many SOT regulars strongly support the repair of our state’s failing bridges and roads but are strongly opposed to new starts. Many also have big problems with the Mon-Fayette Expressway.

Save Our Transit wants the PA legislators to pass legislation that will finally fix the problem of constant shortfalls in funding that are killing public transit. Without an increase in dedicated and reliable state subsidies the Port Authority will be forced to cut weekend and night time service in early 2005. Senate Bill1162 & House Bill 2697 will correct the problem and raise nobody’s taxes but now these bills are being held hostage to a motor fuels tax hike.

Oh, but there is another interesting turn. The Pittsburgh Post Gazette has reported that the legislation to increase the gasoline tax might be made sweeter for those not inclined to go along by attaching a legislative pay raise to the bill. So while public transit is held hostage to a motor fuels tax hike, the motor fuels tax hike might end up being held hostage to a legislative pay raise.

Any action on these bills will be put off until after Election Day and most likely won’t be voted on until the last few hours of the legislative session. They might not get acted on at all. By making public transit funding hostage to an onerous gasoline tax the law makers of Pennsylvania have put public transit in great danger. This move and lies about how a gasoline tax will fund our buses and light rail are an outrage.

Let’s construct a syllogism. If funding to keep public transit alive is dependent on an increase in the state motor fuels tax, and if an increase in the motor fuels tax is dependent on the legislators voting themselves a pay raise, them the funding needed to keep public transit alive is dependent of the legislators voting themselves a pay raise. Hmmm, maybe public transit does have a chance.

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