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Port Authority chief tries to mend fences with state legislators

Tom Fontaine
| Monday, June 17, 2013, 11:25 p.m.

Port Authority of Allegheny County's chief executive tried to mend the agency's poor reputation with some legislators in testimony Monday to the state House Transportation Committee.

“On virtually every financial front, we are not the same Port Authority that created so many negative perceptions in the past. We are a much leaner operation,” interim CEO Ellen McLean told committee members.

The House committee held its second hearing on a Senate proposal to generate $2.5 billion annually for transportation needs statewide, including transit. Gov. Tom Corbett has urged the Legislature to act on budget, liquor privatization and transportation funding bills by June 30.

McLean said she supports the Senate proposal, though Port Authority and PennDOT officials said they're uncertain how much money it would generate for the agency.

Corbett's smaller, $1.8 billion plan would produce $8.1 million to support Port Authority operations in the first year and $50.9 million by the fifth.

McLean said the Port Authority worked to trim expenses to shed the agency's reputation for wasteful spending and runaway pension and retiree health care costs.

The agency slashed personnel costs $45 million a year by cutting its workforce by 646 employees in 10 years, to 2,472, she said. Fare-box collections cover about 26 percent of costs, the sixth-highest rate among 21 Pennsylvania transit agencies.

Through concessions reached in the last three contract negotiations with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85, which represents drivers and mechanics, retiree health care costs are expected to be $60 million a year three decades from now, down from about $125 million annually. However, McLean said President Obama's health care legislation could add $10 million to the future cost.

Others testified about the impact the Senate proposal could have on rural roads, ports, car-rental companies, Pennsylvania Turnpike debt and bicycle and pedestrian amenities.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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