Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Schneider Amendment Could Help Laketran

Mark Schneider appears to be first up to bat.

Not at Progressive Field, but for Laketran and its ongoing mission to receive additional state funding for operations. State Rep. Schneider, D-Mentor, has introduced an amendment to the general revenue portion of Gov. Ted Strickland’s 2010-11 budget proposal that would provide an additional $9.2 million to the $13.3 million the governor wants to collectively allot to public transit systems for the next fiscal year.

It’s an important development for the agency and its riders, even if the amendment doesn’t get picked up. That’s because they’ve been reaching out to state legislators to say that the funding Laketran receives — $613,028 this year — pales in comparison to what it got in 2001, more than $1.1 million.

That he would even offer up the amendment should show Laketran officials, and more importantly taxpaying riders, that the grassroots concept may be catching some steam. What’s more, the first-term state rep. is asking Laketran leaders to contact the heads of transit systems in places like Akron, Kent, Youngstown to try to influence them to have their riders send postcards, letters and e-mails to legislators. Why? Because those systems are struggling just like Laketran.

How did Schneider get involved? He says he’s been talking to General Manager Raymond Jurkowski and board member Donna McNamee about the matter for nearly two years. Schneider advised them to come to Columbus last month to provide testimony for the State House’s Subcommittee on Transportation and Justice, and arm of the Finance Committee. They told House members about the quagmire decreasing funding has created when coupled with sagging sales tax receipts hurt by the economy. It opened eyes.

“They were astounded to learn the hits that transit has taken,” McNamee recalled last week at one of the agency’s public hearings on fare increases and service cuts. “They looked like deer in headlights.

“Because a legislator of the House or Senate can only be there for eight years, they did not realize that the cuts in the budget to public transportation were not just another piece of the overall budget cuts and the result of a bad economy.”

McNamee went on to say that Schneider’s action is just one of many steps. Jurkowski added that the same emotional stories told to the agency by customers should be reiterated tenfold to state decision makers.

The odds are probably long if people expect the amendment to make a difference this year. Laketran’s board votes on the financial recovery package May 11, but the final state budget probably won’t be decided until June.

Still, the future can be affected. You know, like July 2010, when Laketran is scheduled to boost fares even more.

Schneider seems to understand the importance of public transportation. Users should be thanking him, but also encouraging his colleagues to do the same. State Rep. Lorraine M. Fende, D-Willowick, and state Sen. Tim Grendell, R-Chester Township, are scheduled to join Schneider in a meeting with Jurkowski. We’ll see what develops from that gathering.

-- Brandon C. Baker

Photo: Jeff Forman

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