Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Northumberland County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
(Reuters) – Shamokin, Pennsylvania, tucked away in the coal country about 120 miles northwest of Philadelphia, has $800,000 of unpaid bills and can’t get a loan from a bank. It’s so broke, the gas service to city hall was temporarily cut off last month.
So the council for the city of 7,000 residents has agreed to seek entry to a state financial oversight program dating from 1987 that facilitates access to credit and permits the levying of certain taxes. Now, though, some lawmakers say the program is more like a trap than a benefit: municipalities get into it, and few get out.
Just seven of the 27 local governments to enter state oversight under the program, known as Act 47, have ever been released from it. As a result, legislators want to cap how long cities can stay under state oversight and, in the hardest cases, impose a municipal death penalty that amounts to disincorporation and a state takeover. The law was passed in a bid to help Pennsylvania cities battered by the decline of the American steel industry in the 1970s and ’80s.
With a showdown looming in Harrisburg, SEPTA officials made a final pitch Thursday for millions more in state aid to avoid a “devastating” cutback in service.
A House vote is expected as early as next week on statewide transportation funding, and SEPTA says it is prepared to enact a doomsday plan to eliminate nine of its 13 rail lines, close a subway line, and convert all trolley routes to bus lines.
Deputy general manager Jeffrey Knueppel told the SEPTA board that old rail bridges, power stations, vehicles, and train stations could no longer be maintained and must be replaced.
Without more state funding for those capital needs, SEPTA will begin a “rational progression” of cutbacks over a decade, starting next year, Kneuppel said.
Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Luzerne County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Two municipalities facing budget shortfalls are exploring options to ease their finances by cutting police services.
Edwardsville Mayor Bernard “Ace” Dubaskas said council members are talking about reducing the number of full-time officers, while Laflin council members are considering contracting with a neighboring municipality for police protection.
Cutting police services is not a new concept for cash-strapped municipalities.
Warrior Run disbanded its police force in favor of contracting police services from Nanticoke two years ago.
English: U.S. Post Office Lincoln Branch in Madison Township near Mansfield, Ohio. This United States Postal Service branch closed its doors at 4:30 p.m. on Friday February 11, 2011 due to the fiscal crisis that the United States Postal Service is in as of 2010-2011 and the drastic decline in mail volume. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
WASHINGTON — With a wide grin and a quick step, letter carrier Kenny Clark brings more than the day’s mail to the people on his route in suburban Maryland.
Clark, 49, greets nearly everyone he sees by name. He puts packages under eaves on overcast days to keep them dry, reminds people to retrieve keys they might have left in keyholes, and shouts a quick “You OK?” at the doors of seniors.
“He’s a neighborhood icon — him and his truck,” said Amy Dick, who lives on Clark’s route.
But his future, and that of the U.S. Postal Service, is in doubt. The Postal Service lost $1.9 billion between January and March, and $15.9 billion last year. The 238-year-old institution loses $25 million each day, and has reached its borrowing limit with the federal Treasury. Daily mail delivery could be threatened within a year, officials say.
USPS service delivery truck in a residential area of San Francisco, California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Postal Service backed down from its plan to eliminate Saturday mail delivery because Congress barred it, officials said today.
But its governing board said it’s not possible for the financially ailing agency to meet cost-cutting goals without altering its delivery schedule. Delaying “responsible changes,” the board said, only makes it more likely that the Postal Service “may become a burden” to taxpayers.
The Postal Service said in February that it planned to switch to five-day-a-week deliveries beginning in August for everything except packages as a way to hold down losses.
But that announcement was a gamble. The agency essentially was asking Congress to drop from spending legislation the longtime ban on five-day-only delivery. Congress did not do that when it passed a spending measure last month.
English: An locomotive arriving at the Johnstown train station in Johnstown, . The train is Amtrak’s #42 Pennsylvanian. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
ABOARD THE AMTRAKPENNSYLVANIAN — The steady rumble of steel wheels on tracks is punctuated by the wail of a locomotive horn and then, oddly, by the pop of a champagne cork.
It’s 8:30 a.m., and Amanda McCoy and Kim Christen are living it up in the cafe car. On the table are boxes of a Polish pastry called paczki, orange juice and a bottle of Barefoot Bubbly.
It’s mimosa time.
Ms. McCoy, of Indiana Township, and Ms. Christen, of West View, also have bread, garlic bologna, lettuce, tomato and a travel Scrabble set for the long ride. “We’re veterans,” Ms. McCoy says. “We know how to do it.”
Like many others aboard the train, they swear by it, and recoil at the possibility that the one daily Amtrak train serving Pittsburgh and Harrisburg will be eliminated in October.
The airline industry took a decisive step toward greater concentration on Thursday with the announcement that American Airlines and US Airways had agreed to merge, forming the nation’s biggest airline. The merged airline, to be called American, leaves just three major carriers — Delta Air Lines and United Airlines too — able to offer extensive domestic and international service, a sharp contraction over the last decade.
But while airline executives argue that mergers are good for passengers because they bring more service to more destinations, some economists and consumer advocates warn that all this consolidation comes at a price for travelers.
With fewer carriers, passengers have fewer options; fares and fees are now more likely to go up, particularly for flights between midsize cities. And more cities, especially smaller ones, can expect to see further reductions in service.
“It’s much easier to have tacit collusion with just three airlines,” said George Hoffer, a transportation economist at the University of Richmond. “It’s not illegal. But it’s like having a few big people in a small boat. Anyone’s decisions tie you all together.”
The cost of a bus or rail ride will increase Sunday.
Increases approved by the Port Authority board include 25 cents in the Zone 1 fare, to $2.50; 50 cents in the Zone 2 fare, to $3.75; and commensurate rises in the cost of weekly and monthly passes and 10-ticket strips. Riders can use old tickets but must pay the difference in cash.
The Port Authority has begun preparing for service cuts that are more than twice the size of the reductions that took effect in March, when thousands of riders were stranded and others jammed into overcrowded buses.
CEO Steve Bland told the authority board last week that planning has begun for a 35 percent reduction in service hours that will come next fall if Gov. Tom Corbett and the Legislature fail to act on a statewide transportation funding shortfall.