Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Pittsburgh Mayor Ravenstahl cautious about idea to fund transit via asset district - Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald's plan to use $3 million from the Allegheny Regional Asset District for public transit drew a less-than-enthusiastic response from Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl on Wednesday.

"Our folks will be happy to take a look at it," the mayor said at a ceremony to reopen the Lower McArdle Roadway bridge. "We need to make sure it isn't going to affect other organizations that are funded."

Saying he wasn't fully aware of the specifics of Mr. Fitzgerald's request, the mayor also noted that "there are a variety of regional assets in the city that would be happy to receive that $3 million."

"We need to focus on a long-term solution" to the financial woes of the Port Authority, he said. "The RAD certainly is not that solution."

Mr. Ravenstahl's opinion matters because he appoints two of the seven asset district board members, and six votes are required to approve funding.

The $3 million was a small part of a funding announcement by Mr. Fitzgerald and state Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch on Tuesday. The state committed $35 million in additional funding and the county $4.5 million as part of a plan that headed off a scheduled 35 percent transit service cut that was scheduled for Sept. 2.

Local 85 of the Amalgamated Transit Union approved a new contract with an estimated $60 million in savings over four years, and Port Authority said it achieved another $10 million in savings from management cutbacks.

Mr. Fitzgerald said he would offer $1.5 million in surplus revenue from the county's 7 percent tax on poured alcoholic beverages and ask the asset district board for the rest. He said he wanted the board to make the $3 million an ongoing annual commitment.

"It's a significant commitment if it is made," Mr. Ravenstahl said.

From New York City, where he met Wednesday with the agencies that rate the county's creditworthiness, Mr. Fitzgerald said he had left a message with the mayor Sunday with details of his proposal and previously had mentioned to him the possibility of funding transit.

"I feel very confident that this is an asset that is worthy of the district's support," he said. "Many of the [other] assets we fund use transit, both for patrons and their employees."

He reiterated what he said at Tuesday's announcement: The asset district expects enough increased revenue this year because of a strengthening economy to cover a transit grant without taking away from other funding recipients.

The asset district draws its revenue from a 1 percent county add-on to the 6 percent state sales tax. It funds parks, libraries and cultural attractions, along with the city's major sports venues.

"Most cities across the country use sales tax to fund transit," Mr. Fitzgerald said. "I can't think of a bigger regional asset that we have than transit."

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