City police arrested nearly a dozen people today during a protest of pending Port Authority service cuts and Gov. Tom Corbett.
After marching through Downtown to rally in front of UPMC and Corbett's Pittsburgh office, a group of protestors sat in the intersection of Fifth and Wood chanting After giving demonstrators three verbal warnings, officers placed plastic ties around their wrists as the demonstrators shouted, "Public transit needs a fix! We know how: Tax the rich!"
Sgt. Eugene Hlavac said city police arrested 11 who will be taken to Allegheny County Jail and charged with disorderly conduct and obstructing highways. Moments before the action, Mel Packer -- who led the rally and was arrested -- said, "We'll show them what congestion will really be like if they cut transit service."
Packer was among nearly 200 who marched in opposition of a pending 35 percent Port Authority service cut that includes nearly 500 layoffs, a fare increase and massive cuts to the paratransit program ACCESS. The cuts are due to the authority's $64 million operating budget deficit, a result of a statewide transportation funding crisis.
Labor groups, Pittsburghers for Public Transit and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85 were among those rallying. The group stopped at UPMC's headquarters in the U.S. Steel Building, contending that if the nonprofit paid taxes, there would be more funds for transportation. They then marched to Corbett's offices on Fifth Avenue.
A statement handed to reporters said that among those practicing civil disobedience were members of Occupy Pittsburgh and Pittsburghers for Public Transit. They were doing so, the statement said, "to protest the Corbett administration's decision to cut funding for public transit, an assault on our community."
The statement continued:
"In blocking traffic today, we call attention to the far more seriously blocked traffic we'll all face every day due to cuts in public transit. Current bus riders with cars will have to drive, adding to the cost of commuting, creating more traffic jams and filling our lungs with even more dangerous levels of pollutants ... We must disobey a government which knowingly damages its citizens. We disobey the law and accept the consequences today to highlight the corruption of our political system. We uphold a greater ethical imperative to stand with the 99% and true democracy."
Though the demonstration was peppered with criticisms of businesses like UPMC, ire was directed toward Corbett for not addressing transportation funding across the state, despite recommendations from his own advisory committee. Outgoing Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85 president Pat McMahon called Corbett "the only obstacle" to achieving a funding solution for roads, bridges and mass transit.
"You can blame corporate America and they should pay their fair share, but today only one person -- Gov. Corbett -- needs to nod his head," McMahon shouted into a bullhorn in front of the governor's office. "Until he gives the nod, it won't happen."
I love Mel Packer!