Allegheny's Onorato to Hold Drink Tax Hostage

By Ritchie, Jim | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, July 13, 2007 | Go to article overview

Allegheny's Onorato to Hold Drink Tax Hostage


Ritchie, Jim, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


The Port Authority will not get any money from proposed taxes on alcoholic drinks and rental cars until it cuts labor costs further, Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato said Thursday.

Onorato might hold revenue generated by the proposed taxes until after the transit agency reaches a labor contract that satisfies terms he intends to propose to County Council.

"We can put any strings on them we want," said Onorato, who declined to specify his conditions. "We're not required to give them the money."

The contract for nearly 5,000 current and retired Port Authority drivers and mechanics represented by the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85 expires in June 2008.

"If I send this bill to council, the bill will include language that Port Authority does not get a penny more of revenue until they fix the cost structure over there," Onorato said. "I mean, fixing the benefit cost structure of the unions and for nonunion employees."

Labor costs, which include rising health care expenses, represent 75 percent of Port Authority's $325.1 million budget. Onorato's assault on those benefits has the agency's largest union preparing for a fight.

Negotiations have to be give-and-take, said union President Pat McMahon. The union is not willing to give up health care benefits it fought for years to win, he said.

"If it means us paying more in health care, there's things I'd like in return for that," McMahon said.

For example, the union wants a change in holiday staffing in which fewer employees work but are paid more money.

The battle will start after state lawmakers pass legislation, expected within days, that would increase state subsidies for mass transit, sending about $55 million more to Port Authority this year. …

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