Port Authority looks to RAD for funds again
By Tom Fontaine
Published: Sunday, July 14, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
The Port Authority is seeking money for the second consecutive year from the Allegheny Regional Asset District to keep its financial wheels turning.
Some arts groups that depend heavily on RAD money said they feared RAD's $3 million grant to Port Authority could open the door for other cash-strapped public entities to apply.
“That's simply not happening,” said RAD Executive Director David Donahoe, who confirmed Port Authority's application.
Port Authority sought money last year to help prevent 35 percent service cuts. The RAD money it got, along with $1.5 million from the county's drink tax, provided the local matching funds needed to leverage $30 million from the state to head off cuts.
“I'm relieved that there doesn't appear to be a rush from other entities like that,” said Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council CEO Mitch Swain, whose group is receiving $60,000 from RAD this year.
“Everybody in the arts is very supportive of having strong local transit, but I don't view RAD as a long-term solution to transportation. We're really hopeful that a long-term, statewide solution can occur in the fall,” Swain said.
State legislators failed last month to pass a proposal to boost transportation funding by up to $2.5 billion annually, including money for Port Authority. Legislators might revisit the issue when they return from summer recess in September.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald led Port Authority's push for RAD funding last year. Asked whether he thought the transit agency would continue to seek RAD money if state funding increases, Fitzgerald said, “Most likely.”
Fitzgerald said a House proposal would require local governments to come up with more money to get funding from Harrisburg, including a 20 percent local match to receive state funding for operations, up from 15 percent now. The plan would allow local governments to raise income, sales and real-estate transfer taxes to meet the burden.
“It depends what happens in Harrisburg,” Fitzgerald said.
Groups have until Monday afternoon to apply for RAD funding next year. RAD monitors the applicants before they submit applications, determining their eligibility for funding when they seek a password to fill out the online application, Donahoe said.
Donahoe expects a similar number of grant applicants as last year, between 100 and 105. Most already applied online.
RAD uses half of the proceeds from a 1 percent county sales tax to provide grants to libraries, parks, stadiums, cultural groups and other so-called regional assets. RAD is awarding $89.5 million in grants this year, using $3.5 million in reserves along with the sales tax money.
RAD's sales tax revenue through July is even with the first seven months of last year, at $50.2 million, Donahoe said.
Collections were trending about 2 percent below last year through May, but Donahoe said they picked up in part because of strong car sales.
Tom Fontaine is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7847 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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