Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
As of mid-July, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority's perpetual funding crisis was over. A few weeks later, it's back.
The transit agency that serves the Philadelphia area was a big winner in the state legislature this year, as lawmakers agreed to place tolls on I-80, which runs east-west across the entire length of the state, and spend a chunk of the money on transit.
That move appeared to erase SEPTA's $129 million deficit for the 2008 fiscal year, the latest in a string of budgetary headaches for the agency. "Funding had basically been flat for transit for the past decade," says Jim Whitaker, a SEPTA spokesman. As a result, SEPTA has raised fares and taken money out of capital projects in order to sustain the operating fund.
The infusion of state money isn't enough to make SEPTA flush with cash, but it would prevent a large fare increase and allow for more spending on capital projects. SEPTA officials were especially heartened that the revenue source is recurring, giving them hope they won't have to plead for more money anytime soon.
Or so it seemed. In late July, two Pennsylvania Republican congressmen attached a provision to federal legislation that would block the tolls on I-80. Their complaint echoes one from rural legislators in the state: It's unfair to fund urban transit systems with money from rural drivers.
As Congress comes back from its August recess, SEPTA officials have hope that the Democratic majority will restore their funding. Not willing to wait, Governor Ed Rendell has revived his plan to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike to generate revenue, an idea the legislature dismissed earlier this year.