Mayor Street led a Suburban Station rally of labor and management, big and small business, and neighboring mayors yesterday to send a unified message to the state Legislature:

"We need public funding for public transit . . . " Street said, "and we need it now."

Facing what the mayor called a "desperate" funding crisis that could force SEPTA to hike fares 31 percent and slash service 20 percent in July, the transit agency needs $129 million from the state to plug its budget hole.

Beyond that, SEPTA and the state's other public-transit agencies need a dedicated funding stream to avoid the chronic cash crises that have plagued them for years, Street said.

The mayor was visibly upbeat about the sight of management icon Mark Schweiker, president of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, and longtime labor leader Pat Eiding, president of the Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO, working together for mass transit funding.

"I've always believed," Street said, "that if you get Pat Eiding and Mark Schweiker on the same page on the same issue . . . "

"In the same suit!" cracked Eiding, who was wearing the twin of Schweiker's gray suit. "Thank you for the suits, Mr. Mayor."

Laughing, Street said the traditional adversaries agree on funding public transit because it is vital to both business and labor. Schweiker said that if SEPTA is forced to drastically raise fares and cut service, "this area is about to experience an economic heart attack."

After the news conference, Mike Pearson, president of Union Packaging, an African-American-owned business in Yeadon that makes paperboard food containers, told the Daily News that SEPTA's R3 train and the 34 trolley are crucial to his 92 employees.

"I set up this company eight years ago to bring jobs back to where I grew up," Pearson said as Hugh Long, Wachovia Bank CEO for Pennsylvania and Delaware, listened. "We are a 24-hour operation employing hard-working folks, many of whom do not have access to cars," Pearson said.

"Without public transportation, we would have lateness and absenteeism that might end up costing us $100,000 a year. I'd rather see that $100,000 go into increased wages or into our employees' 401K accounts."

Long said Wachovia would have similar issues with the 3,000-4,000 employees in its city headquarters.

"At least half of our employees depend on public transit to get to work," Long said. "SEPTA is also vital to the hundreds of small businesses in our customer base.

"If we were talking about whether all the water was going to be shut off, or all the electric power was going to be shut off," he said, "people would be mobilizing in the streets. Public transit is just as vital to our economic health. This needs to get funded quickly." *