Tuesday, December 07, 2004


Apparently, the fact that SEPTA's credibility is at or near an all-time low among most legislators in Harrisburg isn't stopping some columnists from still acting as adjunct members of SEPTA's Ministry of Mis-Information. Take John Baer's column in Monday's Daily News:

Possible loss of SEPTA jobs and service presents an opportunity for Gov. Rendell not only to save the day, but maybe save the year.

With a $62 million SEPTA hole threatening to suck down a chunk of the regional economy, there is every reason to act and act fast.

For despite blame aimed at the Legislature for ending its two-year session early, the governor is the most identifiable and responsible leader on this issue. He has the authority, the smarts and certainly the reasons to avert a transit nightmare.

Plus, the Legislature's gone until January, when cuts and fare increases are set to start.

The only problem is, Iggles season drags on through the holidays and Gov. Rendell (D-Pa./Comcast SportsNet) is rather busy with other priorities right now...

So, Ed. There's "flexible" federal highway money, not a first choice, but an option; there's capital fund cash, I'm told, authorized but never bonded; perhaps unexpended balances in PennDOT or other agencies; maybe the option of
accelerating normal state payments to SEPTA as was done for schools during the
last "crisis"; or even slush fund grants.

Point is the government is huge. Things can be done. I'd note, for example, after a tax-breaks-for-Comcast deal flopped in the Legislature, Ed found a $30 million grant for the company.

If you can find money to help people who run corporations, you can find money to help people who ride the early bus.

Of course he helped Comcast. He's on the payroll, remember?

Make no mistake: The situation at hand is the result of failures on the part of lawmakers and the governor. That SEPTA workers face the fear of layoffs is directly attributable to gamesmanship and lackluster leadership.

The problem exists, along with others, because early warnings were ignored and because the Legislature's four caucuses and two houses do not work well enough together or with the administration.

That, and the fact Ed and GOP leaders are at distant odds over pay raises and name-calling, petty partisanship no one but they care about but that, yet again, prevents problem-solving.

Folks who work for and ride SEPTA have no interest in who called whom what, or who failed to act when - they just want the buses and trains to run.

Even then, the buses and trains don't run as well as they could...
The politics are plain.

SEPTA gets 68 percent of the state's $741 million mass-transit budget. Now it wants more. By most accounts, the agency's well-run, basically the victim of underestimated revenues from a funding fix in '91. So its need seems real.

But Republicans who run the Legislature hate the idea of their constituents, who mostly never see a SEPTA vehicle, paying increased taxes or fees of any kind for services they don't use.

This is well-known. Yet a Dwight Evans plan backed by Rendell offered at the 11th
hour is $110 million in various increased statewide fees, and when it's rejected, Rendell and others act surprised.

Who's kidding whom?

Meanwhile, Republicans say some Rendell wish lists near the end of session did not include SEPTA, and at least one priority-numbered list had SEPTA only at the bottom and without a number, as if, said a source, "it's an afterthought."

Rendell press secretary Kate Philips says, "That's not the case."

And the Governor won't race down the Turnpike at 90 miles per hour en route to get to his Iggles gig, right?

Whatever is the case, SEPTA got short shrift. And when its board then
proposed drastic cuts and fare increases, Rendell called it, "The inevitable
result of the Legislature's failure to act."

Come on. The problem isn't new; the solution offered isn't politic. The governor and the Legislature dropped the ball.


What does makes sense is for the governor to find funds to keep SEPTA running now without blaming the Legislature.

Then it makes sense for Rendell and the legislature to find ways (gas tax, property-transfer tax, parking tax, commuter tax, some combination) to better fund SEPTA with statewide revenue that also funds other transportation needs or with regional revenue used solely for SEPTA.

A challenge, no question. But also an opportunity - to show leadership, improve political relations, save the day and maybe the year.
Daily News

At least Baer isn't blindly blaming Republicans as is often the tact of most reporters on the Daily News payroll...

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