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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

UPDATE: Mayor voices concern about RADical transit solution

Posted By on Wed, Aug 22, 2012 at 5:55 PM

A quick update to yesterday's post about Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald's plan to shore up the county's transit system by tapping the Regional Assets District for $3 million a year. The Tribune-Review is now reporting that Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has misgivings about the plan to use proceeds from the 1 percent sales tax.

Ravenstahl told the Trib he wanted to be sure the plan "would not adversely affect other organizations" that depend on the money. Similar concerns were voiced in our piece yesterday; RAD has traditionally funded cultural enterprises, not infrastructure, and arts groups especially have come to rely on it.

If push comes to shove, though, it's not clear the mayor could do much to stop the plan even if he wanted to. (Correction: Well, actually,that's not true. RAD board funding requests have to be approved by 6 out of 7 board members. My mistake.) The RAD's funding decisions are made by a 7-member board, and while the mayor appoints two of those members, the county executive appoints four. (The seventh member is chosen by the six appointees.) And some of Fitzgerald's appointees are probably diehard believers: Paul Gitnick, for example, contributed $10,000 to Fitzgerald's campaign last April, when Fitzgerald was facing then-controller Mark Patrick Flaherty in the Democratic primary. Dusty Elias Kirk also gave at least $1,000 to Fitzgerald before the primary. This, by the by, was at a time when many political insiders reckoned Ravenstahl in Flaherty's camp, though Ravenstahl professed neutrality in the race.

Another factor weighing in Fitzgerald's favor: Since my blog piece yesterday, RAD executive director David Donahoe left a message responding to my query about whether RAD's charter -- which emphasizes investing in cultural activities -- allowed tax revenues to support a transit system. Donahoe noted that he couldn't comment on a proposal that hadn't even been submitted yet. But he agreed that the RAD board "does have latitude" in determining what civic assets can be funded, and that the RAD's enabling legislation supported that expansive view.

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