Saturday, November 13, 2004


Depending on (a) who you ask and (b) what day it is, SEPTA is either getting a big bailout from Harrisburg, or is in really deep doo-doo...

Starting with Thursday's "unofficial" SEPTA Board committee meetings, SEPTA Board Chairman Pasquale T. Deon, Sr. was gracious enough to interrupt his busy schedule of planning fishing trips with Al Mezzaroba and micro-managing the Pennsylvania Turnpike to grace us with some pessimistic news, according to the Inquirer:

"We can't get enough momentum to push the governor and the legislature... . There is not a groundswell of public support," Deon said as the board's budget committee reviewed the crisis. "We have no more rabbits in our hat."
Gee, way to show that bright optimism there, Don Pasquale...

Meanwhile, the other half of the Duo of Doom, Fearless Leader, uttered these words:

SEPTA riders "take us for granted," transit agency general manager Faye Moore said in an interview yesterday. This is the third year in a row of dire straits for SEPTA caused by a lack of predictable state funding, she said. "There is no good alternative. We have to increase fares or cut service."
Is it any coincidence that the aforementioned three years of "dire straits" all occured under Fearless Leader's watch? Perhaps Jack Leary left at the right time...

Representatives of both Gov. Rendell (D-Pa./Comcast SportsNet) and House Speaker John Perzel (R., Phila.) took a more positive view.

Rendell "is cautiously optimistic that a solution is within reach" that would avoid layoffs and service cuts before the legislature's two-year term ends this month, Kate Philips, his press secretary, said yesterday.

"He's working on a solution that will help SEPTA in the near term... and he also wants a long-term solution," said Philips, who refused to discuss current talks. "He's not looking for a quick fix that will necessitate another quick fix."

Beth Williams, Perzel's press secretary, said: "We are working on it, and we are looking to have some kind of relief by the end of the session."

Just as Rendell and many GOP leaders have had long-standing doubts about SEPTA's fiscal condition, the public does not believe the transit agency is truly facing a crisis, says a report the transit agency released yesterday summarizing its recent budget hearings.

Perhaps because the public has heard the same BS from SEPTA officials for the past three years...
As in past years of financial trial, SEPTA officials will contemplate a different course at the last minute.

Deon yesterday directed SEPTA staff to "come back with some options" other than the current plan. The SEPTA board will meet Thursday and has tentatively scheduled a Dec. 2 gathering.

How much do you want to bet that this will involve service cuts on top of a major fare hike. There are already rumors posted on the guestbook that some under-performing routes such as the 8, 19, and 121 are on the chopping block, along with the elimination of night owl service, but nothing is official until the Rotating Resumes at 1234 Market figure out an exit strategy...
In a possible violation of Pennsylvania's Sunshine Law, the SEPTA board's budget committee met behind closed doors yesterday to discuss the budget and possible layoffs an hour before the noon public meeting.

Going into the private session, SEPTA lawyer Nicholas Staffieri said the board would discuss "what has been going on in Harrisburg and its implications for the budget."

He said the closed-door gathering was legal because the board would be discussing specifics of layoffs related to the budget crisis.

With few exceptions, the Sunshine Law requires public-agency officials to deliberate in public. When more than half the members of a board assemble, they are allowed to meet privately only to consider limited matters, such as personnel, real estate, labor negotiations, or anticipated or pending court cases.

Nine of 15 SEPTA board members "straggled in" during the executive session, Deon said. Their private talks were proper, he asserted.

"The ship is really going down this time," Deon said. "Don't twist the story around on things that don't matter."

Okay, I'm sure Jere Downs wouldn't walk into WBCB radio in the Levittown district of Bristol Township to tell Don Pasquale how to run his radio station; I don't think Ms. Downs - or any member of the media - needs to be told how to do his or her job.

Meanwhile, the hearing examiners came out with their report and recommendations on how to proceed with this year's budget crisis...
As for the public not believing a real crisis is at hand, independent SEPTA hearing examiners Ronald DeGraw and retired Judge Murray C. Goldman said in their report yesterday that "the general tenor is that this is just another ploy by SEPTA to get more money." They cited two recent state audits of SEPTA that they said "refute this assumption."

The hearing examiners suggested that SEPTA hike fares next month, trim weekday service in January, and delay ending weekend service until February or March. SEPTA is not required to follow their advice.

"Taking action immediately... may serve to convince the public, the governor and the legislature that this transit crisis... is indeed a very serious one," the report stated. Inquirer
Meanwhile, Dan Geringer filed this report in Friday's Philadelphia Daily News (a fully-paid subsidiary of the Democratic National Committee):
Isolated from the public behind a red-tape barrier with no nameplates to identify them, SEPTA's board members yesterday heard the agency's budget director detail a $62-million-deficit winter plan for drastic service cuts and fare hikes.

The meeting began with the ominous announcement that there would be no public comment, and went downhill from there:

Unless the Legislature finds $62 million to eliminate SEPTA's deficit, budget director Richard Burnfield said, fares will be hiked 25 percent on Jan. 1, followed on Jan. 23 by a 20 percent cut in weekday service, and the
elimination of all weekend service and 1,400 jobs.

In the surprisingly brief and emotionally flat discussion that followed, the few board members who spoke showed no sense of urgency or outrage at the possibility of public transit turmoil here.

One member's only contribution was to blame SEPTA's troubles on the media for suggesting that the transit giant was "crying wolf" about its money woes.

Too bad I couldn't make it, because I probably would've been able to point out which board member has been taking pages out of the Ministry of Mis-Information's playbook, particularly the page on "How to attack your enemies..."
Another asked SEPTA lobbyist Jeanne Neese how things were going in Harrisburg, where SEPTA's funding fate will be decided by month's end.

Neese said she's heard everything from SEPTA will get its $62-million bandage to "absolutely nothing."

Ahh, more money well spent...
She said legislators complain to her about not hearing a public outcry from their constituents to save mass transit.

Gee, I wonder why...

And now, we hear from Lance Haver, who is continuing his role as public nuisance extraordinaire who's now doing his thing on the dime of the taxpayers of the City of Philadelphia:
"SEPTA's board meetings, where there is no way for riders to be heard, violate every concept of the Sunshine Act," he said.

"You do things behind closed doors, then come out, discuss it a little in public and vote. You put riders in the role of complainers. You refuse to address riders' concerns, and then you're surprised they're not there for you
when you need them to ask for money?"

Haver said the SEPTA board was an isolated, insulated group that offends the very people it should be most responsive to: riders who pay the fares.

"The people who are SEPTA's base, who have no choice but to ride public transit, who are wed to SEPTA by economic marriage, are the people they mistreat," Haver said.

"After years of abusing me, are you surprised that I don't want to help you when you're in trouble?" Haver asked. "It's easy to get people to come to a hearing and scream at you, but it's hard to get people to come out and say how wonderful you are - because you're not wonderful."
Daily News

Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner...

That's pretty much the reason why hardly anyone except the usual vocal transit activists have been showing up in Harrisburg more often than your typical lobbyist.

Of course, that was just what happened on Thursday. Yesterday, the Daily News came back with this potential bombshell:
(State Rep. Dwight) Evans (D-Philadelphia), minority chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, was mysterious but upbeat yesterday about the state Legislature saving mass transit with a last-minute cash

"I've talked to all the different players, Republicans and Democrats, and I know this may sound naive, but no one has said 'No' to me about trying to do something," he said.

Evans clammed up when asked if that "something" includes his recently-announced idea of raising $46 million through a new inspection sticker fee for emissions and safety, and state Rep. Michael McGeehan's, D-Philadelphia, proposal to raise $50 million by increasing the tire tax from $1 to $3, and the car rental tax from $2 to $4.

"My staff has worked up an idea today involving general fees and a technique that we used last year involving some small portion of the sales tax," Evans said. "We'll circulate that idea around with people, and may shoot for a vote on Monday.

"It's easy to have a solution. The question is: Do we have the votes?"

Honestly? I'd doubt it...

You may recall that former SPETA Board member Richard Voith, who now works for a transportation policy think-tank, once floated around a similar idea to what Evans is proposing. While I don't remember the exact proposal off the top of my head, I do recall it involved raising dedicated revenue for mass transit via emission or registration fees...

Meanwhile, at the edifice at Broad and Market known as Philadelphia City Hall...
... City Councilman Michael Nutter (D-4th) will conduct a 2 p.m. public hearing Monday on rescuing SEPTA from having to raise fares and slash service so severely that thousands of bus-and-train-dependent riders won't be able to get to work.

All the key city players, including SEPTA General Manager Faye Moore and Transport Workers Union Local 234 president Jeff Brooks, are due to testify. Afterwards, the transportation committee that Nutter chairs will
consider action on SEPTA's brink-of-disaster funding crisis.

"What's unfortunate," Evans said, "is that there's such a huge sense of cynicism, people thinking that this is not for real, that SEPTA's just crying wolf. You don't like Faye Moore? You don't like [SEPTA board chairman] Pat Deon? Let's look beyond personalities."

Actually, Mr. Evans I can't stand either of them. As noted earlier in this post, the past three years of SEPTA's budget problems have all come during Fearless Leader's watch. But, anyway...
"Let's look at the direct connection between SEPTA and our workforce, our economy. Let's look at the effect of the devastating actions they'll take if they don't get the money they need."

Evans believes that his colleagues on both sides of the aisle understand they can't just ignore the statewide public transit funding crisis, which is most obviously critical in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

"They're feeling the heat," he said of his fellow-legislators. "They know they cannot leave there without doing something about this. So let's put it up for a vote. I want to offer my amendment. I want my shot." Daily

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