Sunday, February 13, 2005

Life on SEPTA, and Monday Philly and Harrisburg rallies

The Sunday Inquirer has an article about a variety of people and their dependence on SEPTA.
Facing a $49 million deficit this year - and a projected $92 million hole next year - officials of the nation's fifth-largest public transportation system have threatened route cuts and fare increases that would make Philadelphia the most expensive ride in the nation.

Gov. Rendell will seek approval later this month to divert federal highway funds and avoid a fare increase. But, Rendell says, there are no guarantees. Next year's deficit looms, and a long-term fix remains elusive.

What can't be forgotten is that SEPTA is more than its infrastructure or its bleeding budget; more than a giant web linking distant and disparate neighborhoods.

It is the people - roughly 365,000 a day; more than 133 million a year - who depend on it to get to jobs, schools, hospitals, libraries, business centers, churches, shopping, the airport.

People such as wheelchair user Damon Banks, who needs his independence.

People such as Nitza DeJesus, for whom it's "better than walking."

Even people such as James Smoyer, a retiree who simply believes in public transportation and takes the bus every day from Elkins Park to Chestnut Hill for coffee or shopping.
The article talks about a variety of SEPTA routes, from the R5 shepherding Main Liners to and from Philly jobs to the 26 Bus taking Central and Girls high kids to Germantown and Mt Airy.

In his budget address to the Pa legislature, Gov. Rendell did not really talk about mass transit. In fact, rather than a permanent fix, he is floating the idea of again transferring highways funds to make up next year's gap- another stopgap solution. The thought now seems to be that everything will have to wait until after the 2006 election, which would be ridiculous. Hopefully it does not come down to this.

(The other, notable and potentially awful thing that came out of SEPTA lobbying this week was that legislatures may try and require some part of the SEPTA solution to be raising fares anyway. Lets be clear: the fares are plenty high. SEPTA provides huge benefits to the entire region. Mass transit keeps cars off the roads, delivers workers to jobs, keeps the air cleaner, and gives a huge economic boost to the region and State. It is ridiculous to make riders, so many of them low-income, pay even more.)

To that end, there are two rallies in support of SEPTA on Monday, one in Philly and one in Harrisburg. The Harrisburg rally, sponsored by the PA Transit Coalition, has busses leaving from Philly at 9AM, or, likely before you have read this. I know one or two people going, who said they may write about it, so hopefully we can get a good update by Tuesday or so. And, if anyone else out there wants to write about it, email me.

The Philly rally takes place on the west side of City Hall, at 5PM. That one, I will try and make it to.

17 Comments:

At 12:00 AM, Blogger Keith Fernsler said...

I have some questions for you.

Why is it the rest of PA's job to cover SEPTA's butt? Why do I need to have "user" fees increased so you or someone else can have a cheap ride?
I got to pay more for gas, tire replacement, auto registration, and so on to cover you. How is this fair? Why can't the riders pay there user fees? Their the ones using it.

I shouldn't pay for something in Philly when I live in Lebanon County and don't use it.

The only way for SEPTA to make money is to manage themselves better. They need to charge more for their fees and pay the employees a reasonable salary. I will never get why people who take mass transit believe that everyone else needs to pay for them. I don't have anyone paying for me and I need to get to work to.

Wake up Philly, The rest of PA is tapped out and tired of bailing you out.

 
At 5:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in Philadelphia and both drive a car and ride SEPTA on occassion, so my question to you is why should my auto registration, gas taxes and so forth go to pay for you? I don't go to Lebanon County or drive on your roads. Why don't you and other Lebanon County residents pay for your own roads? I'm sure the auto and gas taxes you pay don't cover the costs of maintaining, repairing and building all the roads in Lebanon County.

 
At 9:58 AM, Blogger DanielUA said...

Keith-

Would you really like a situation where each County only got funding based on how many taxes were collected? If so, not so sure many counties in PA would do so well.

As for the idea of Mass transit, I assure you, your auto registration does not cover the cost, or even a small part of the cost of driving. How come I always have to pay both federal and state taxes to "cover your butt?" The difference is that you have come to expect that invisible subsidy, while the more obvious ones that go to mass transit are harder for you to take.

And, the blunt reality is that the tax receipts from the Philadelphia region pay for many, many things that have nothing to do with our region. The thing is, we are one State, all in this together, so we share costs. That goes for Mass Transit, and many other things. If you took Philly businesses (Comcast, Verizon, Independence Blue Cross, etc) and their jobs, tax receipts, out of our State, all of Pennsylvania would be in serious trouble, from Pittsburgh to Shippensburg to Philly. Again, we are one State, and we have to tackle big issues, from schools to transit to economic development, together.

 
At 10:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Cities have been subsidizing the less polpulated areas for years, the state highway system (as well as much of the other infrastructure)throughout the less populated counties was built (and maintained) on the taxes from more populated areas. Why does Philly need to worry about the shape of Rt 422? Truth is, it doesn't and would be in a better place if no tax dollars were spent on projects outside of its metro area. Would the state be better off if it did not offer incentives to a Lowes distribution facility or a Cabelas super store to locate in rural areas? I don't know, but maybe. It would certainly cost a lot less to put them where the infrastructure already is. Imagine the effect if the cities started mandating that their taxes no longer pay to support projects in rural areas. Thing is, we have to stop reacting and start planning. Re-creating vibrant downtowns and cities should be everyone's goal.

 
At 11:02 AM, Blogger Keith Fernsler said...

I would agree that we need to keep the businesses in PA, However why was Comcast handed a sky scrapper and given tax exemption for however many years? Comcast makes a ton of money and owns PA as far as cable tv goes. Think of all the money that would go into Philly if Comcast had to pay the taxes.

The Auto Registration increase and tire tax increase is on the table by the Gov, and some Philly State Reps. Whatever it goes up by is what is going to Mass Transit.

My thoughts are the same for Amtrak, and the Airlines. How come SouthWest can give low fares and be in the black while AA and USAIR want our tax money to bail them out.

For the Anonymous writer, you have got me confused. Your saying the same thing I said and I would like to know still why do you think it's okay for tax money from all over PA to cover failing cities like Philly and Pittsburgh?

We could get business to come to PA if we were more business friendly. Instead we bring them in with a tax exemption so in 5 to 10 years later when we want them to pay they move out. That happened with EarthLink in Harrisburg.

I think Counties should be held to their tax intake only. It would make them keep spending in check and may even make Government smaller. Government is too big and too costly. They can't even run themselves so I can't see them running SEPTA any better.

 
At 11:23 AM, Blogger DanielUA said...

Sure, if we could stop giving businesses breaks, that would be great. Unfortunately, that is the way the game is played. PA cannot unilaterally disarm. And, as far Comcast goes, their tax breaks were not that bad compared to most, and they seem to be taking a pretty big amount of risk with the skyscraper. And, just out of curiosity, what in your mind makes PA more "business friendly?" Besides the tax breaks, which you say you are against, there are some other things that attract them- an educated population (which takes investments in schools) and the ability to get mass amounts of workers to the business each day- the reason that Comcast put its new building squarely next to Suburban Station.

And, here is the disconnect that everyone has responded to you with: I promise you, your county does not collect enough taxes to pay for the roads of Lebanon County, never mind the schools, and Universitities, etc. You say counties should self fund. So, does that mean, for example, that Cumberland County (and students) have to pay the full cost of tution at say, Shipensbug University? Or do we instead say that it is a huge benefit to have Pennsylvanians going to good colleges, so we as a State subsidize that cost with a really good State University system?

We are not 67 States. We are one.

 
At 12:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: business tax incentives.
There's currently a case working it's way through the Ohio courts that could result in making business tax incentives illegal. (link:
http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/10826645.htm)

Re: Lebanon County tax receipts.
I did a quick search and found a Penn State College of Agriculture research paper breaking down the sources of tax revenue in Lebanon County. Although the data is from 1997, it's probably still a good reflection of the basic break out. In fact Lebanon County local taxes pay for a little over half (52%) of county costs, the remaining costs are covered by state, federal and combined state/federal revenue. So Lebanon County, in all liklihood, couldn't support itself under its
own current tax revenue stream.

Re: Comcast.
Comcast did not get a KOZ designation for its new building; therefore Comcast gets no long term tax relief. They did get 30M, but that's mostly for improvements at Suburban Station and a public plaza or something similar.

Re: Questions to you.
I replied with the same silly logic you used. When you can answer my questions, you'll have the answer to your questions.

 
At 1:01 PM, Blogger Keith Fernsler said...

To make PA more business friendly we would need to lower the commerical and corporation taxes.

For example Hershey Foods thought PA was good enough to setup shop but not good enough to incorporate. Hershey is corporated in Deleware and his under Deleware Corporate law.

Education, however is another beast. Our country dumps the most into Education then any other country but gets the least out of education. Our problem is we think it's a money problem and keep dumping more into it.

Highways don't matter at this point as that money has already been sent to SEPTA and Pittsburgh's PAT.

I think it's a good thing to have "State", or teacher colleges as they were once called. They keep the cost as low as possible which is less then half the cost of private colleges like Messiah and Lebanon Valley.

I have a problem with the way school districts get their money. They get their money through properity tax which hurts the elderly who have a fixed incomes. Plus if you can't pay you loose your home. What is that!

This is why I like the sales tax idea. Make it 5 percent across the board and drop property taxes. I know you may say that everyone pays property tax but I don't believe they do. If you have an apartment complex with 10 families they are only paying a small portion of the property tax. While I the home owner pay completely for my place. If they would make the sales tax 5 percent across the board I would have to spend $25,000 on goods and services. I don't normally do that but if I make a big purchase like a car for example I would go over that year.

I don't have any anwsers really, just a lot of questions. I don't think the way things are now are good and we need to find something better. I have been a Eagles and Phillies fan since I can remember plus a Hershey Bears fan since the mid 90's but I wasn't happy when our tax money went to building those multi-billion dollar owners new stadiums.

PA now is one of the most unfriendly tax payer States in the Country. We have people leaving PA to move to Deleware, Maryland, Virgina, Arizona, and Colorado. We also have the second highest elderly citizenship in the country. All we want to do to the elderly is kick them out of there homes that they lived in for 30 or more years.

Just some thoughts and sorry if this bounced all over the place. It's just that we have more problems then this State can handle.

 
At 1:13 PM, Blogger Keith Fernsler said...

I want to respond to the third anonymous comment.

As I haven't look up those numbers I will take your word for it. Some of that funding was for State and Federal mandates which are now hurting our county along with every other county.

The State and Federal governments have cut fuding but kept the mandates. These mandates are causing county and local taxes to sky rocket. So now more and more counties are working on funding themselves more completely. We really just needs some people to say enough with the mandates. If don't want to pay for them we will not adhere to them.

I like to hear that these Tax breaks to big companies could be found illegal.

 
At 2:08 PM, Blogger DanielUA said...

I address what you said in your previous two posts, point by point:

To make PA more business friendly we would need to lower the commerical and corporation taxes.

For example Hershey Foods thought PA was good enough to setup shop but not good enough to incorporate. Hershey is corporated in Deleware and his under Deleware Corporate law.
You before referenced the tax breaks that PA companies got, and said they were bad things. Wouldn't this be similar? Companies go to Delaware because they charge virtually no taxes. But, of course, they then end up with little to show as a result.

Education, however is another beast. Our country dumps the most into Education then any other country but gets the least out of education. Our problem is we think it's a money problem and keep dumping more into it.
We are one of the biggest countries in the world, and one of the richest, so it makes sense that in absolute terms, we spend more on education. But how about as a percentage of GDP? There we are outspent by a number of countries, including our neighbors to the North.

This is why I like the sales tax idea. Make it 5 percent across the board and drop property taxes. I know you may say that everyone pays property tax but I don't believe they do. If you have an apartment complex with 10 families they are only paying a small portion of the property tax. While I the home owner pay completely for my place. If they would make the sales tax 5 percent across the board I would have to spend $25,000 on goods and services. I don't normally do that but if I make a big purchase like a car for example I would go over that year.If your goal is to try and make school funding more equitable, I agree whole heartedly. However, a sales tax, which is incredibly regressive, is not the way to go. The sales tax would certainly hurt the elderly, and the working and middle classes. And, adding 5 percent to the cost of goods is not making PA "business friendly."

We also have the second highest elderly citizenship in the country. All we want to do to the elderly is kick them out of there homes that they lived in for 30 or more years.
I think your heart is in the right place. But, again, to keep elderly in their homes, to make sure they have a decent life, to make sure they can see a doctor, to make sure they have money to eat, it costs money, plain and simple. If we decide as a state that ensuring the elderly should have a good life, then shouldn't we, as a State share the burden of that cost? By your logic of each county only pays and receives for itself, county governments would actually have incentives to kick elderly out of their homes, so some other county could absorb the cost.

I like to hear that these Tax breaks to big companies could be found illegal.
I think we can all agree that ending the zero sum game between States would certainly be a positive thing.

Highways don't matter at this point as that money has already been sent to SEPTA and Pittsburgh's PAT.That is simply not true. They sure do matter. A small part of money that was going to go to road project was diverted, and this may happen again if the legislatue does not get its act together. The point about the roads is that you said earlier that each county should only get what it pays for. If this were true, PA would have some pretty crappy roads in many, many places.

I think it's a good thing to have "State", or teacher colleges as they were once called. They keep the cost as low as possible...
Well, they may keep the cost low, but, a lot of that is because the State gives them huge amounts of funds. Where does that money come from? How come you, in Lebanon County get to go to a school in Monroe, Philadelphia, Allegheny or Center Counties?

Again, we have shared goals, shared needs, and shared responsibilities. If your County was truly out on its own, I think you would be pretty lonely.

 
At 2:48 PM, Blogger Keith Fernsler said...

You make great points.

I feel that Hershey Foods being corprated in Deleware should be illegal. What I was saying is that if PA was business friendly we wouldn't have companies pulling moves like this. If your a PA based company then you should be corprated in PA.

I look at the sales tax as a possible good thing. I don't have any numbers but would the elderly really be hurt if they don't have to pay any property taxes? I don't see a lot of old people going crazy on spending so it may be a wash at the worse.

Now I didn't go to a college like IUP, Temple, or Ship. I went to a tech school which is private. I know a lot of people that went to state schools because they are cheap alternatives to your Penns, Gettysburgs, and E-Town colleges. Is the education the same? Who knows but too many other countries rank so much better then us in education that I just wonder what I am paying for besides football fields, swimming pools, and basketball courts.

The thing is I think we have gone a little off track here. I meant that in my first post that we around the state shouldn't pay for a failing transit system. If we keep giving them money they will just spend more and want more. I like that the President wants to cut off Amtrak. They haven't made money since the begining. I think they should bring someone else in to have a shot at it. SEPTA isn't working as is, but all we can come up with is toss more money at it. Just like education, if a school is failing we keep tossing money in hopes that the money leads to something great.

For example if a taxi company isn't making money they close up shop. If a private company which I believe SEPTA still is can't get into the black they are all but made to close shop.

I don't want Mass Transit out of Philly or Pittsburgh, however I would like to see it managed better and at least make it more cost effective.

I know this isn't really the same thing but if Microsoft was in the hole as much as SEPTA would you want your tax dollars to bail them out?

 
At 3:13 PM, Blogger DanielUA said...

SEPTA:

First of all, it simply is not a private company in the Microsoft sense. It is a state charted institution to provide mass transit to SE PA. It also collects more of a percentage of its fees from its riders than almost any other system in the country.

Mass transit does not, nor will not, ever turn a profit. But, neither do roads. Imagine if each time you took a drive, you had to pay a toll. Not just on the turnpike, but on every street, alley, road and expressway that Lebanon County did not pay for. You would quickly become a poor man. The government spends billions upon billions of dollars on roads each year. That is why it seems so cheap. But you know what? It is not. You just do not ever have to pay the full costs. So, either propose an EZ pass that will charge you every time you pull out of your driveway, or realize that like subsidizing cars, subsidizing mass transit is a public good that we all pay for.

 
At 4:02 PM, Blogger Keith Fernsler said...

I know that mass transit will never turn a profit I just feel that they should be held to better standards as far as spending.

My problem is most of PA is tapped out and we are paying a lot just to get to work by paying the high gas taxes, registration fees, tolls, tire taxes, and so on.

I just feel that I am being penalized for driving a car because they want to increase everything to pay for mass transit.

They need contract out some bus routes, rail lines or something to a contractor that could do a better job. The spending of SEPTA is crazy and nobody wants to fix it they just want more money. I hate to say it but if a bus line is only getting one or two people they need to shut it down.

I understand we need mass transit in the South Philly region. However, I would feel better if I knew that Transit wasn't going to spend money hand over fist and go in the hole over double of where they are now.

I know a lot of people in the Mid-State are getting ticked with having to pay for this. Tune into WHP580 if you ever go out West at all during the afternoons Monday through Friday

 
At 4:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First, although my posts have been rather harsh on you, I applaud your willingness to exchange views with those of us who disagree.

Second, in response to your comment
about Pennsylvania being a high tax state, check out this report from the Keystone Research Organization:
http://www.keystoneresearch.org/policywatch/pw_pdf/KRC%20PW%20High%20Taxes.pdf?%20No.pdf
(Although KRO is left-of-center, this is a good objective analysis)

Third, the vast majority of Americans want government and public entities run efficiently, smartly and with good financial stewardship of taxpayer money. I'm among them.
But, as Daniel has said, mass transit will never make a profit, so the right question to ask is do the benefits outweigh the costs. I think they do. (BTW, rail passenger service never made a profit either even in its heyday. The RRs made, and make, money from freight that subsidized the passenger service. That's why the RRs were so eager to dump passenger trains on Amtrak and keep freight service. If Congress allowed Amtrak to offer some level of freight service, Amtrak might make a profit, otherwise not.)

Last, companies headquarter in Delaware not because of tax breaks, but because of Delaware's Chauncery Court and laws which are very business friendly and were deliberatly designed that way to help DuPont.

 
At 7:25 PM, Blogger Keith Fernsler said...

Anonymous,

I will check out that report. Also thank you for bringing that to my attention.

I realize that mass transit won't make a profit. I do however wish that Amtrak could. The reason I say that is the Airlines are a way of mass transit. Right now the only big airline making money is Southwest. AA and UsAir went crying for government money and are almost done.

I feel that sometimes we look to government to quickly and they get the impression we can't take care of ourselves.

I would like SEPTA to re-org, and re-plan. They need new management and they need to be investigated. We need to see where all the money is going. Something very corrupt is going on in SEPTA and needs to be shutdown.

Maybe if there was some liability to SEPTA I wouldn't care so much. Maybe the beni's out weigh the dollars but for most of PA they don't. For you to drive to Ohio you will have to take State roads and roads of other towns. However the people of Erie or Lancaster don't need SEPTA to get to New Jersey, or Deleware. So their money would be going to waste in their eyes.

 
At 7:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keith,

Here are Rep Keith McCall's (D-Carbon)funding proposals in his bill for mass transit: (fm Phila Daily News article)

"My proposal will:

• Increase the realty-transfer tax by a half percent [like Fumo's Senate bill], which will give mass transit $200 million in dedicated funding annually, probably more.

• Adjust the formula so that the [smaller]... mass-transit systems get a larger share of state funding. I'm confident that both SEPTA and the Port Authority in Allegheny County will agree to that.

• Make the "floor" of the oil company franchise tax, which increased automatically as of Jan. 1 permanent, which means that an additional $280 million would continue to flow into roads and bridges without the need to raise the gas tax.

• Increase some driver and vehicle fees: passenger-car registrations would rise from $36 to $43, SUVs to $50. Restoring a suspended license would cost $30 instead of $25. That would raise $100 million that would go solely to local governments to repair local bridges and roads."

As you can see the only annual cost
increase to you is $7/yr ($14 if you have an SUV)for auto registration. You'll only pay the real estate transfer increase if you sell your house. We are already paying the increased gas tax.

IMHO, this is a good proposal, it helps everyone. Would you agree?

Also don't focus on just SEPTA.
PAT in Pgh is also in trouble as are smaller mass transit agencies like BCTA (Beaver Co Trans Auth) that serve older and poorer areas. Today, you yourself don't use mass transit, but that doesn't mean you never will
or never need to.

Finally, this has been a good discussion. IMHO, one of the great things about Pennsylvanians is our ability to be open-minded and pragmatic in finding solutions to the problems our state faces.

 
At 10:54 PM, Blogger Keith Fernsler said...

I guess I would be okay with those proposals if I wasn't getting hit everywhere else.

My School Property tax is going up 33 percent over 3 years just to build a new school which is not needed. My county is raising my property tax 20 percent. As with you my Privilege to work or EMS tax went up to 52 dollars. Plus other utility type things have gone up.

Now Rep. McCall wants to raise another tax we pay yearly and keep one that already exists.

Being a homeowner now at 23 (22 when I bought my place) and having only one income for the time being it's tough to say this is great.

Do you know who was the REP who wanted to increase the tire tax from $1 dollar per tire to $4 per tire? There was another increase this guy wanted as well but I can't remember. He is a Rep in the Eastern part somewhere.

I am glad to see however, that Rep. McCall did say where the increases are to go. If those increases really go where he says it may not be a bad thing.

You're correct about PAT and other transits out there. I think that the finances should be looked into to make sure that there isn't any funny business going on. If that is done I may not care as much, but as it is I don't trust SEPTA or PAT.

I have used SEPTA but it's only been a couple of times. I work in King of Prussia and have gone with work into the city. The fare didn't seem high to me but then again I pay 7 dollars to ride the turn pike for 2 hours a day.

I enjoyed the discussion with everyone here. I also have a blog going. It has my thoughts on mainly local politics as I am running for Borough Council.

 

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