Legal opinion: Asset district can give money to Port Authority
A lawyer hired by the Allegheny Regional Asset District said the agency can legally allocate tax money to Port Authority of Allegheny County.
“We are of the opinion that there is no legal impediment to the district providing funding to Port Authority,” John T. Vogel, with the Downtown law firm Tucker Arensberg, wrote in a formal opinion.
Port Authority requested $3 million from RAD as part of a plan to prevent a 35 percent cut in service and 560 layoffs. That money — and $1.5 million from the county’s drink tax — would help leverage $30 million from the state. Officials obtained worker concessions worth $25 million a year.
Former RAD board member Rick Pierchalski said the opinion didn’t surprise him.
“It’s certainly not in the spirit of how that law was designed,” he said. “This opens up the floodgates for what future county executives or county councils can propose to be funded and it will have a serious effect on the future of our parks, libraries and cultural assets.”
Eric Montarti, senior policy analyst at the Castle Shannon-based Allegheny Institute on Public Policy, said even if the law allows the allocation, “the bigger question is, should they? What kind of Pandora’s box does that open?”
Other agencies, such as the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority, could try to designate themselves as regional assets, he said.
RAD supports “regional assets” with half the proceeds from the county’s supplemental 1 percent sales tax.
Vogel said the state law that created RAD defined a regional asset as “a civic, recreational, library, sports or cultural facility or project designated as such by the district. … Port Authority could be categorized broadly as a ‘civic’ facility or project, particularly given that neither ‘facility’ nor ‘project’ is defined.”
The law excludes health care facilities, schools, parks of fewer than 200 acres, libraries that are not regional in nature and any asset that fails to serve people living outside a municipality in which the asset is located. On the latter exclusion, Vogel said the Pittsburgh-based Port Authority and its facilities serve people from across Allegheny and neighboring counties.
He said the district can financially support “organizations and properties vital to the quality of life in the region.” The law creating Port Authority, Vogel noted, said the agency was designed to improve the “well-being and economic health” of the county.
The RAD board is expected to release its preliminary budget with 2013 funding on Thursday and adopt a budget in November.
Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or [email protected].