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Investigative Reporting

Take on the thugs & weasels

| Sunday, Nov. 23, 2008

Some 40 business and civic groups in Greater Pittsburgh have banded together to urge the Port Authority of Allegheny County and Local 85 of the Amalgamated Transit Union to settle their contract standoff and avoid a strike.

Workers won't be able to get to their jobs, they cry. It's the last thing we need in this recession-bound economy, they wail. And, of course, a strike could throw lumps of coal on a Christmas shopping season already expected to be abysmal, is the great unspoken worry.

But, as per usual, the group's efforts are, simply put, bass-ackwards.

Politicians and civic groups regularly admonish the public to use mass transit as a way of lowering pollution levels, reducing traffic congestion and improving residential living patterns, says Jake Haulk, president of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy.

And they urge the spending of massive sums on the transit system and building facilities that are not even needed or justified, he adds. Think the Airport Busway that's not and the North Shore Connector that, for its short run, is one of the most expensive-per-mile transit jokes ever built in North America.

And yet these same public cheerleaders "stand by twiddling their thumbs as the union leads the county around by the nose," Mr. Haulk says.

"Here is a system with $1.5 billion in capital assets (even after depreciation), paid for largely by state and federal taxpayers, that could be idled because politicians are too afraid to do what needs to be done," says the conservative think tank head.

Ditto for those groups that say they're our best pompom girls for "progress" but whose actions only retard it.

The Allegheny Conference on Community Development comes to mind as the retarders in chief. Consider its audacious support for such regressive taxes as the Regional Renaissance Initiative a decade ago. Think of all that pompous pimping for Allegheny County's 10 percent tax on all poured alcoholic drinks over the past two years.

The cheerleading competition to urge a Port Authority-ATU settlement is not a sign of strength in numbers that will produce some resolvent salve. Heck, most people laugh when the Allegheny Conference makes its pronouncements because they're usually diametrically opposed to reality.

No, this "consensus" is a sign of the worst of group-think weakness.

What needs to be done• "Namely, outlaw transit strikes and remove the Port Authority's monopoly control over transit in Allegheny County," Haulk says.

And that's where the energies of the Allegheny Conference, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership and all other members of the kumbaya crowd would be best directed.

"Thirty-seven groups beg the union not to strike. Why are they not asking the Legislature to outlaw transit strikes• They are cowards, pure and simple," says Haulk, frustrated that, generation after generation, nobody has learned the lessons of history or has the brains and courage to truly serve the public weal.

"All cower before the sanctity of organized labor's 'rights' to make unreasonable demands."

Greater Pittsburgh cannot progress as long as union thuggery and acquiescing "public purpose" weasels rule the day. Who's ready to challenge this wretched alliance• Who will blow that certain trumpet of real leadership?

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