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Politics & Government

Port Authority Bill Moves To House

The state Senate has approved compromise legislation that would change the structure of the Port Authority of Allegheny County Transit (PAT) board.

Last week the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a measure by Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) that would have increased membership on the PAT board from  nine to 11 with the county executive getting only one appointment compared to the current system where he appoints all board members.

Scarnati's bill angered County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. So, Senator Randy Vulakovich (D-Allegheny) offered an amendment that would allow Fitzgerald to appoint four board members, two of which must be recommended by the Allegheny Conference, the Allegheny Council of Governments, the Committee for Accessible Transportation and the Southwest Planning commission.

The amended bill was approved on a 30-20 vote and would also give two picks to the minority party on county council. Those six board members would be joined by five state selections: one by the governor and one from each of the four caucuses of the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

Vulakovich said the current PAT Board doesn’t have enough state representation.

“What didn’t stick right with anybody, not even myself, was that all nine members were appoint by one person, no matter who it is,” Vulakovich said. “It’s not a matter of who the name of the person is, but it’s the title of the person and the county executive would appoint all nine members.”

Fitzgerald agreed with Vulakovich.

“I think the state needs to be involved,” he said, “because they provide a good portion of the money.”

Fitzgerald said the bill is a fair compromise that keeps the board based in Allegheny County.

“If the agency’s going to continue to make the kind of reforms and the kind of moving forward that we’ve seen over the last year and a half, we don’t want Harrisburg or a board by committee to operate the system,” Fitzgerald said.

Only one Democratic Senator, Jay Costa of Allegheny County, voted in favor of the amended legislation.  Senator Jim Ferlo (D-Allegheny) said he supports the compromise on appointments to the PAT board but opposes a provision that calls for a study of privatization of the transit system.

"The notion that you're going to get rid of a public authority that has tax exempt status, that is the recipient of federal tax dollars for transportation, none of which would be available to the private sector, is just illogical," Ferlo said. "It's about wrong ideology."

The bill is headed to the House for consideration.