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County Council Shouting Match over Transit
by Danny P Thursday, Dec. 02, 2004 at 3:15 PM
dannyp@indypgh.org (email address validated)

At the Budget and Finance committee meeting of county council on December 2nd, 2004, the committee decided against having money for Port Authority in the budget they were recommending to the County Council.

County Council Shout...
council04b1.jpg, image/jpeg, 418x208

At the Budget and Finance committee meeting of county council on December 2nd, 2004, the committee decided against having money for Port Authority in the budget they were recommending to the County Council. The chair, Bill Robinson, and other prominent committee members often echoed their support for funding Port Authority, despite the fact the committee was not recommending money to go towards Port Authority for the next fiscal year.

Harrisburg failed to increase their allocation beyond their initial cuts, instead committing a much smaller amount for transit groups such as Port Authority and SEPTA. Harrisburg's allocation, already less than what is needed to maintain the current level of service, is still contingent on the County providing matching funds.

The budget that is being proposed to the County Council currently has no money allocated for Port Authority. None. If the county doesn't match Harrisburg's $750,000, Port Authority will not be receiving any money from Harrisburg next year. This could mean the end of public transit in Allegheny County.

Under the leadership of the Chair, Bill Robinson, the Budget and Finance Committee is instead recommending to wait until after the budgets have passed and go into effect on Janurary 1st, 2005 before committing any money to $750,000. County Council all echoed support for funding Port Authority in Janurary, but are refusing to do so now.

The reasons and implications involved with the decision to wait before having the County commit money are numerous. One reason offered, particularly by the committee Democrats, was to enable County Executive Dan Onorato goes to Harrisbug to express the urgency more clearly, making it clear to Harrisburg that the County will not allow the State to drop the ball.

Other councilpeople disagreed, arguing that it could hurt the efforts if the County didn't provide the $750,000 immediately. They argued that Harrisburg won't feel compelled to increase their contribution when the County isn't even living up to their bargain in matching $750,000. The councilpeople who made this argument included Republicans such as Ronald Francis and Doug Price.

Partisan politics were exceptionally nasty at this meeting, but to some extent it seems the issue wasn't really just about transit. The Republicans talked about how they had supported an amendment weeks earlier to give $750,000 to Port Authority, and complained that the Democrats voted it down. This anger resulted in the first loss of decorum in the meeting, when councilman Dr. Charles Martoni expressed his desire to see Port Authority funded, and was interrupted by Doug Price (R) shouting "tell them, tell them!" and explaining how the Republicans on the committee had supported the funding. The Chair quickly ruled this outbreak out of order, and John DeFazio (D) commented on how the reason the Democrats voted down the Republican proposal was because the Republican proposal was to cut $750,000 from social services that, in his view, shouldn't be cut, and then applying that money to the Port Authority. In other words, the Democrats claimed that they opposed what the Republicans were proposing the money get cut from, and not funding for mass transit itself.

Words almost came to blows when there was an argument over what would be the required vote in Janurary 2005 to give money to Port Authority; the sides were bickering over robert's rules and amending a passed budget, and whether or not it was appropriate to discuss this here. Chair Bill Robinson ended up challenging the entire council, shouting things such as "the only person recognized is the chair," "you're out of order," and (repeatedly) "does anyone here know more roberts rules than me? does anyone in here want to chair this meeting?" He was upset in the manner in which Councilman DeFazio had interrupted him and tried to raise a point, and both of them raised their voices and bickered at each other.

To conclude, the County Council is currently recommending a budget that includes no money for Port Authority and has given transit riders only a promise that they will commit money towards Port Authority after the budget goes into effect next year. And if they don't go ahead and do this, the result will be no state matching funds and consequently ALL transit will be endangered.

The real threat here isn't just losing nights and weekends. We're not out of the woods yet.

CLARIFICATION: Sorry, forgot one detail - this big debate is over Port Authority's operating budget, which is what is seriously lacking and going to keep the buses off the streets. County Council approved of a capital budget for PAT.

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thank you
by stephen donahue Friday, Dec. 03, 2004 at 6:45 AM

Thanks for this great report back.

The partisan fighting at County Council is often strong and nasty. Ron Francis wants to take the $750 thousand match from the budgets of the "row officers" like the clerk of courts, sheriff...
The Dems like the row officers, the Repubs don't.

December 6, 2004 (Monday) is the full county council meeting. We won't get fooled again. County Court House, 436 Grant Street, Gold Room, 4th Floor, 5PM.

WE WON'T LET POLITICS KILL PUBLIC TRANSIT. We will tell them to quit the bickering and fund public transit.

thanks again!
sd

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Excellent Coverage
by TIm Vining Friday, Dec. 03, 2004 at 6:59 AM
Tim Vining

Danny, thanks so much for the great coverage on the County Council Budget meeting. It made me wish I was there to see the fireworks. This is the kind of reporting we can only get from Indymedia.
Tim

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