80+ PA Orgs, Unions, and Electeds Demand that the Turnpike Fulfill its Transit Funding Responsibilities, Call for Expanded Transit Trust Fund

Transit is essential. Pennsylvania needs stable funding for public transit.

On Thursday, May 14th, 82 organizations, unions, and elected officials across the state of Pennsylvania called on state legislators to ensure that the PA Turnpike fulfills its $450 million transit funding obligations until 2023, or until a sustainable, dedicated alternative funding source is secured. This coalition of transit riders, labor unions, community development corporations, and community advocates recognize that the viability of our transit system is paramount to both survive the pandemic and to ensure a path forward to recovery. 

Recent news reports suggest that the Turnpike is looking to discharge this obligation amid the pandemic, and proposed state legislation would begin that process, with no plan for replacement. Defunding mass transit would impact residents in every county across the State. It would bring the state economy to a grinding halt and diminish access to critical needs like food and healthcare at a moment when both are precarious. 

Moreover, COVID-19 CARES Act transit funding must not be used to replace the annual state contribution for transit, as it was specifically intended by Congress to address increased costs and funding shortfalls of transit agencies during COVID-19, and to ensure that mass transit could continue to serve as the economic engines of our cities. Finally, it is egregious that transit agency board members of both SEPTA and the Port Authority of Allegheny County are in positions that allow them to defund our transit systems, and undermine the viability of these economic drivers and community lifelines.

Testimonials from Pennsylvania transit riders supporting this effort:

The full letter and signatories are copied below and sign on to stay abreast of statewide advocacy for public transit:


Dear Governor Wolf and the PA Senate and House Appropriations and Transportation Committee Members,

Public transit is a public utility, and an essential extension of our healthcare and food systems. The COVID-19 crisis has brought into stark relief the need for public transit systems to be considered essential services and as a necessary aspect of our healthcare and food system infrastructure. Public transit moves front line workers in our food and healthcare industries to their critical jobs — nurses, grocery and pharmacy clerks, hospital environmental service workers, pharmacy technicians, food warehouse workers.

We the undersigned stakeholders and community organizations would like to respond to recent news reports and legislation proposing the discharge of the Turnpike responsibility to fulfill its transit funding obligations under Act 89. These reckless proposals would impact residents in every county across the State. Defunding transit would bring our state economy to a grinding halt and diminish access to critical needs like food and healthcare at a moment when both are precarious. The CARES Act COVID-19 transit funding was provided with the intention of ensuring the safety and viability of our mass transit during this crisis, and under no circumstances should it be used to justify dismantling our state funding mechanisms

While Act 89 was an imperfect solution to the lack of dedicated funding to transit, it was nonetheless a heroic bi-partisan effort that provided stability for our Cities and rural communities and kept our statewide economy moving. That $450 Million annual Turnpike obligation does not step down until 2023. Our state legislators cannot allow for a reduction or for the elimination of those payments until an equivalent or greater dedicated state transit funding source is identified. 

The federal government has responded to this crisis with bold action, directing emergency stimulus funds to transit agencies so that they can continue operating as economic engines of our states. Our federal legislators have recognized that maintaining the sustainability of our transit systems is paramount to both surviving the pandemic and ensuring a path forward to recovery. This CARES Act transit funding should under no circumstances be considered a viable substitute or stopgap for the state funding obligation, and must not be co-opted to address Turnpike shortfalls. The feds have done their part, now the onus is on our state. 

Our state legislators need to rise to the urgency of this moment. This cannot be done by following the path set forth by Senator Kim Ward’s legislation or Representative Lori Mizgorski’s legislation, which would defund our state’s public transit systems with no plan for reliable, long-term replacement. Representative Mizgorski’s proposals are particularly egregious as she is a Board Member of the Port Authority of Allegheny County, with a responsibility to keep the transit agency financially solvent so that it can fully serve its riders and our regional economy. Her transit-riding constituents deserve better. PA residents deserve better. She and other legislators must take proactive steps to ensure public transit can continue to serve our state economy. 

Pat Deon, Chairman of the Board of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, is also a Pennsylvania Turnpike Commissioner, which places him in a uniquely compromised position. Chairman-Commissioner Deon must recognize that extricating the Turnpike from its financial obligations cannot be prioritized ahead of the critical mass transit systems that riders across the state count on every day.

If under this worst case scenario, the Turnpike reduces its transit payment obligation, then we propose that the Motor License Fund cover the shortfall. The Motor License Fund was intended to ensure the safety and viability of our state transportation system. However, over the past seven years, the State Police have siphoned billions of dollars from this fund. Annually, they have taken nearly twice as much money as the Turnpike funding that is allocated to mass transit. There is broad, bi-partisan agreement that the Motor License Fund is not the appropriate mechanism to fund the state police, particularly because their allotment far exceeds the amount needed to pay for the state troops which patrol our highways. Now is the moment for that change.

With this letter, we implore Pennsylvania Legislators to take innovative, equitable approaches to establish dedicated, long-term funding for public transit. 

Sincerely,

Pittsburghers for Public Transit

Philly Transit Riders Union

Transport Workers Union Local 234

Amalgamated Transit Union Pennsylvania Joint Conference Board

Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 85

Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 164

Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 168

Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 241

Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 801

Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 880

Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 956

Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1279

Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1345

Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1436

Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1738

Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1743

Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1958

Commuter Railroad System Division / Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters

SEIU 32BJ

SEIU Healthcare PA

United Electrical Workers (UE)

Lindsey Williams, PA State Senator, District 38

Sara Innamorato, PA House of Representatives, District 21

Anita Prizio, Allegheny County Council, District 3

Bethany Hallam, Allegheny County Council, At-Large

Olivia Bennett, Allegheny County Council, District 8

Darwin Leuba, Auditor of O’Hara

1Hood Media

350 Philadelphia

ACCESS Mob

Allegheny County Transit Council

Alliance for Police Accountability

ARYSE

BikePGH

Bloomfield Development Corporation

Bloomfield Garfield Corporation

Borough of Carnegie

Casa San Jose

City County Taskforce on Disabilities, Allegheny County

Clevelanders for Public Transit (CPT)

Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW)

CREATE Lab

Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers

Erie United

FMB&Associates

Green Party of Allegheny County

Green Party of Pennsylvania

Hill District Consensus Group

Human Rights City Alliance

Institute for Policy Studies Climate Policy Program

Izaak Walton League of America – Allegheny Chapter

Just Harvest

Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA)

Labor Network for Sustainability

Lawrenceville United

New Sun Rising

New Voices for Reproductive Justice

North Aiken Community Council

OnePA

Perry Hilltop Citizens Council

Philadelphia Climate Works

Philly Neighborhood Networks

Physicians for a National Healthcare Program, Western PA

Pittsburgh Food Policy Council

Pittsburgh Mobile Bus Information Hotline

Pittsburgh Union of Regional Renters (PURR)

Pittsburgh United

Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project (PUMP)

Put People First! PA

Reclaim Philadelphia

Restaurant Opportunities Center United of Pennsylvania

SEPTA Youth Advisory Council (YAC)

Sharpsburg Neighborhood Association

Sierra Club

Sierra Club Allegheny County Chapter

SisTers PGH

Somali Bantu Community Association of Pittsburgh

Sunrise Movement Philadelphia

Take Action Mon Valley

Thomas Merton Center

Three Rivers Community Foundation

Transit Forward Philadelphia

Trap Panther Party

Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh

UrbanKind Institute

Walk Bike Shaler

Washington United

Women & Girls Foundation

add your organization’s name to this letter here.


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