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The Port Authority: Real 'reform'?

| Sunday, July 28, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

On paper, upcoming changes to the Port Authority of Allegheny County board under a new state law look like steps in the right direction. But the real gauge will be whether the new board quickly and firmly addresses the agency's fundamental financial woes.

The nine current board members' terms expire 60 days from July 18, when Gov. Tom Corbett signed the new law. It dilutes the Allegheny County chief executive's hitherto exclusive power over board appointments.

The new board will have 11 members serving staggered terms — and limit them to a maximum of three consecutive terms. The county executive will freely choose four, plus two from a list submitted by four community groups, whose appointments will require Allegheny County Council confirmation. The governor and the state House and Senate majority and minority leaders will each pick one of the other five members.

All must have backgrounds in finance, transportation or economic development. And PennDOT is required to study the potential benefits of consolidation and privatization for the authority.

But all these reforms will be for naught unless the new board effectively and promptly addresses the authority's burdensome legacy costs (think pensions) and its unionized workers' right to strike — the two biggest factors in its perpetual pauperism. Otherwise, taxpayers and riders can expect more of the same red ink, pleas for state bailouts, service-cuts brinkmanship and unsustainable giveaways to organized labor.

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