Awaiting state funding, SEPTA passes bare-bones budget

Posted: July 27, 2013

The SEPTA board on Thursday approved a six-month, $640 million operating budget to keep trains and buses running while waiting for the state legislature to come up with additional money.

The board also approved a bare-bones capital budget of $308 million for new vehicles and major construction for the full year.

SEPTA, like other transit agencies in the state, "suffered an enormous disappointment" when the legislature went home July 1 without approving a plan to increase state spending for transportation, general manager Joseph Casey said.

"At a time when we are experiencing record ridership, we do not have the resources to preserve the current system - let alone growing it to attract even more riders," said Casey.

SEPTA officials have put off voting on a 12-month budget because they expect to be short $38 million for the full fiscal year, which ends June 30, if additional state funding is not forthcoming. That could mean service cuts or another fare increase. Fares went up July 1.

A $2.5 billion-a-year increase for Pennsylvania highways, bridges, and transit agencies was approved last month by the state Senate. The House did not approve a funding plan, however, as some Republican lawmakers balked at proposals to raise gas taxes, and Democrats refused to support a $2 billion-a-year increase offered by Republican leaders.

Gov. Corbett, who also sought more transportation funding, has urged the legislature to tackle the issue when it returns from its summer recess Sept. 24.

SEPTA's new $308 million capital budget, used for major repairs and new-vehicle purchases, provides much less money than SEPTA needs - and used to get, said board vice chairman Thomas Babcock, who represents Delaware County.

"Thirteen years ago, the capital budget was $485 million," said Babcock, urging board members to push legislators for more money. "Something has to give at some point. I hope it's not the system."

SEPTA expects to get $117 million from the state and $4.2 million from the five local counties for its capital budget, with $187 million from the federal government.

The money won't be enough to meet a growing, $5 billion backlog of "state of good repair" needs and won't permit major fixes such as an upgrade of the dilapidated City Hall concourse or replacement of 80-year-old power stations.

Instead, the capital funds will go for expenses that are federally mandated or safety-related, or are essential vehicle and infrastructure purchases, SEPTA officials said.


Contact Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com.

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