This morning's "Ticket To Ride" breakfast and rally took place in Harrisburg, with very few of the high ranking Rotating Resumes from 1234 Market attending. The Pennsylvania Cable Network (which, for some odd reason, is not on several of Comcast's systems in the Philadelphia area) taped the event for possible rebroadcast.
The highest ranking Rotating Resume in Harrisburg today was Juan Torres, who is the AGM for Public and Governmental Affairs; the only other high-ranking SEPTA official attending was the Minister of Mis-Information himself, Richard Maloney.
At the breakfast held at the Harrisburg Hilton (insert your own Hilton sister joke here), State Rep. George Geist (R-Blair), the Majority Chair of the Transportation Committee, noted that securing funding for any kind of transportation improvements is very difficult at best:
"It never gets you re-elected. These are votes that scare the bejesus out of guys I talk to," Geist said. He added "there are no current proposals to raise gas taxes for roads and other taxes for transit." Inquirer
Giest also noted that the last "stand-alone" transit funding bill was introduced by then State Rep. (now Congressman) Joseph Pitts of Southern Chester County. That bill was introduced around 1979-1980. Today, stand-alone bills are virtually extinct.
Giest also noted that one of the biggest challanges for transit funding in Pennsylvania was finding a replacement for the controversial PURTA tax, whose revenues have sharply declined since the state de-regulated the electricity industry.
Giest's Democratic counterpart, State Rep. Michael Veon (D-Beaver) offered a rather pessimistic view of the chances of SB1162 and HB2697:
"What is needed is a series of dedicated fees and taxes for mass transportation."
Veon was also opposed to any attempt by the legislature to divert the $280-300 million needed for transit systems directly from the General Fund.
The breakfast wrapped up with comments from Gov. Edward G. Rendell (D-Pa./Comcast SportsNet), who was also attending a separate event at the Hilton (no, it was not an Andy Reid press conference). Rendell noted that one fo the toughest challenges facing transit funding was the lack of reaction from voters, stating that legislators "have to speak for people who have no lobbyists." (Easier said than done since there are probably more lobbyists in Harrisburg than there are hookers on Kensington Avenue).
During his comments, Rendell also hinted that SEPTA and other agencies should attempt to continue to find ways to cut costs, noting that the Port Authority of Allegheny County was "very responsive to calls ... to be more efficient."
Following the breakfast meeting, a few rumors had circulated that Rendell's audit of SEPTA, conducted by former Amtrak manager Arlene Friner, was highly critical of the folks at 1234 Market. As of right now, no formal document had become available for public review, but one has the feeling that rumors will start to float around about what Rendell's suggestions are.
The majority of attendees then went over to the Captiol Rotunda for a rally in support of dedicated funding, and were later joined by transit activists from Pittsburgh. This was nothing more than a "made-for-TV" photo op which sought to bring attention to the cause.
State Sen. (and SEPTA Board Member) Stewart Greenleaf (R-Upper Moreland) offered an example of the impact of funding for SEPTA by bringing up the PNC Operations Center in Southwest Philadelphia (but not mentioning it by name). Greenleaf indicated that PNC would've moved 8,000 jobs that are presently at the Eastwick facility to Delaware; the move was averted thanks to the construction of the Eastwick station on the R1 Airport line.
Greenleaf also peddled one of the most consistent lies that has come from 1234 Market, in claiming that SEPTA "has done everything they can" to become more efficient, reducing expenses by $420 million and eliminating 1,300 jobs. While there's no disputing the reduction of expenses, the job reductions Greenleaf noted took effect nearly 5 years ago when Jack Leary was in charge. There have been very few positions eliminated in recent years, however.
Both Greenleaf and State Rep. John Taylor (R-Northeast Philadelphia) ran over many of the same talking points that have been pushed by the SaveTransit coalition. Taylor also noted that he did not seen "upsetment or panic" from his constituents, claiming that only one person had contacted him regarding SEPTA funding issues in the past few weeks. Then again, his part of Northeast Philadelphia isn't neccesarily as transit dependent as, say, West Philadelphia or Germantown.
In a related note, the ad hoc committee which met at 1234 Market last month is slated to release its findings on whether or not to restructure the way SEPTA is governed. According to staffers for State Rep. Ron Raymond (R-Sharon Hill), a report is being circulated internally and is expected to be released to the public within a couple of weeks. This same board is studying the possibility of a state takeover of airports in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Harrisburg. That committee is scheduled to meet in Tinicum on October 15 as part of a hearing on Philadelphia International Airport.