I’ve written previously (here and here and here) about the never-ending demands for taxpayer money in the City of Brotherly Love — and, once again, here comes SEPTA (the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority), needing more money.
SEPTA struggles with deficit
By Larry King, Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer
Last summer, SEPTA said it didn’t want to cry wolf, yet again, to its crisis-weary riders.
So when the transit agency’s board approved an operating budget with a $50.3 million deficit, no plans were announced for filling the hole through higher fares or scaled-back service.
That was a switch from previous years, when SEPTA threatened such measures, only to get final-hour state bailouts.
Now the wolf is at the door.
The projected deficit has shrunk since July to $37 million, but SEPTA still must wrestle it down before the fiscal year ends June 30.
Officials remain reluctant, however, to concede that fare hikes are inevitable, or to guess how high they might go.
“We want to look at different options before we look at putting it on the backs of riders,” said Joseph Casey, SEPTA’s chief financial officer.
Uhhh, why? After all, the riders are the ones who use SEPTA; why shouldn’t they be the ones to pay for it?
Until last Monday, agency officials had held out hope that a state transportation commission might recommend a short-term fix to the lame-duck legislative session after the elections. Gov. Rendell established the Transportation Funding and Reform Commission in early 2005 in part to suggest ways of avoiding annual transit funding crunches.
But when the commission issued its report, it included no short-term provisions, putting SEPTA’s immediate budget crisis front and center.
Translation: SEPTA wants to, once again, get the people who don’t use the Philadelphia-area mass transit service to pay for those who do. Once again, they’re looking to the “state” (meaning: people in Jim Thorpe and Hazleton and Berwick and Erie and a whole bunch of other places that are not serviced by SEPTA) to pay the fare for SEPTA’s riders.
But the writer of the article put it best, even if unintentionally, in his next paragraph:
Before considering fare increases or any other in-house remedies, SEPTA officials say they first need to sound out allies in Harrisburg and see whether any stopgap loot can be had there.
The emphasis is mine, but the word “loot” is entirely appropriate; SEPTA would rather loot the state treasury than ask its riders to do something radical like pay their own way.
While they haven’t written about it yet, we can count on the editors of The Philadelphia Inquirer to back some scheme that keeps the costs of SEPTA off of the backs of the poor riders.
After all, the editors are never shy about advocating increased spending, because they can always find a good cause.
For years, most eyes in this region focused on the mountain of blunders committed by the old New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services. While few were watching, Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services, the agency mandated to protect abused and neglected children, has been a smaller Mt. Mess-up.
Recent Inquirer stories describe children who were abused or neglected to death even though their families had been involved with DHS.
Unchecked procedures based on feeble policies were carried out by a mix of good caseworkers and inexperienced or incompetent staff and contractors.
It’s no wonder some kids are well-served by DHS – and others die from a kind of violence that is overshadowed in Philadelphia by incidents involving guns.
The stories have spurred changes from the state and city. More will come, but not enough and not as quickly as they’re needed: Even as officials proclaim their commitment to kids, youngsters’ needs often are sent to the back of the line.
Good heavens, how can anybody be opposed to putting more money into an agency that is supposed to help at-risk children?
Well, given some rather high profile cases of just how bad the agency has failed in the past, some people might question if adding more money isn’t just throwing good money after bad. What evidence do we have that giving more money to people who have been failures will suddenly produce success?
But this points to a larger question. We can always find good reasons to spend more and more money. No one wants to be the Grinch on money for an agency that is supposed to take care of at-risk children, not if there is a reasonable chance that that money will actually help such children.
And there are a lot of poor people, people without automobiles, who ride SEPTA. Add to that the reduced congestion on city streets from (wealthy) commuters who park at the lot in Villanova and ride the train into Center City. That’s a good thing, too, right?
The editors make a decent case for spending more money on DHS, but they can make decent cases for spending more money on lots of different things. The case that no one ever seems to make is the case for not doing good things, because the taxpayers are taxed too highly already, and do not want to keep paying for more and more good things.
At any rate, in a day or so (the editorials usually follow the news stories by one or two days), the editors will be telling us how we need to find more money for SEPTA, perhaps with a nod to maybe increasing fares, but almost certainly involving some sort of other funding which does not involve making the people who use SEPTA pay for the increased costs, but having all of the people of Pennsylvania “share” in those increased costs.
What we will never see from the editors is some proposal to let the taxpayers keep more of their money for themselves.
Cross posted on Red State.