Monthly Archives: July 2011

The POTUS on “First-Ever Default” Avoision*

… and you could call this a liveblogging.

BEST ARGUMENT = starts at 2:25. Most of the previous might have been sent out in code.

In this coming (we hope) “process” to come up with real deficit reduction, it would be fantastic if these two bipartisan study commissions (on Tax Reform and Spending Reduction) each had to come back with draft bills no later than six months from now. No, better make that four months from now. We’ll need another two months at least, to amend and improve them for enactment by the (symbolically critical) deadline.

Now in terms of optics — it might be time for President Obama to alter the tone of his voice from that which has been his favorite (placid, exasperated calm) to something else. Emoting fear and passionate resolve are two ways of convincing people you see things their way.

*-UPDATE: A compromise breaks late in evening between the President and Congressional leaders (LINK) There is a degree of apparent confusion over what it would preclude in terms of the deficit-reduction approach. **- UPDATE II: POTUS explains himself, and rallies his troops again towards a “balanced” prescription. (LINK)

The Music: U2

The visual material: Lauren Faust

So! We have these ‘Property Taxes’…

It should be starting to occur to people:

A 0.25 mil increase in the property tax would cost individual property owners $25 annually per $100,000 of assessed value, while raising $3.25 million annually, in this case for Carnegie Libraries of Pittsburgh (source).

As of this early date, nobody is indignantly recoiling from the concept. There is a comprehensible rationale for the tax increase, after all, and the cost is not very onerous compared to it.

So hypothetically and presumably, a 1.00 mil increase in property taxes would cost owners $100 per $100,000 in assessed value and raise $13 million annually for, let’s say, the City of Pittsburgh.

$13 million with which the City might be enabled to pave a few streets, demolish some rat traps, and fix some pools — that is, here and now, during the 3 to 5 years it will take before our pension fund runs out NO GOD NO WAIT I MEAN while we all address meaningful pension reform, maintain our pay-as-you-go capital budget and approach our debt drop-off in 2017.

The take we might generate from a one mil property tax hike is just a bit shy of the $15 million we hoped to generate with the 1% tax on college tuition. That $13 million also lies roughly in line with figures quoted in the recent past for various budget gaps, capital budget reductions, final solutions, forever elusive non-profit PILOT arrangements, pledges of diverted future revenue et cetera.

$100 on the other hand is a couple new tires, or a frightfully austere night for the family at PNC Park (bringing-a-flask austere), or a fraction of one’s insurance deductible should the deterioration of public services lead to a problem in one’s home.

The conventional wisdom has been that, “If we raise property taxes, there will be a ‘whoosh’ as the city empties out and collapses.” However when contemplating sums like $100, one begins to wonder if that is really code for, “If I agree to raise property taxes, my next opponent will have something easy and interesting to say against me.”

Thus for most who are in a position to decide, it’s preferable to see taxes raised only upon a deus ex machina forcing us — that is, a “state takeover”, legal ruling or similar. Problem is, awaiting the arrival of an outside force takes much longer — time during which problems fester, deterioration becomes decay, decay becomes disease, and real emptying-out might actually be occurring more subtly as a result.

Mayor Ravenstahl deserves credit for having actually advocated raising revenues — via a tuition tax, yes, and via an infrastructure lease (no plan for parking rate increases was contemplated prior to the Mayor putting higher rates on the table in that way). However the easiest, most forthright, and perhaps the most painless way to collect more revenue remains a strict taboo, a ghost story.

It may not have to be property taxes, but there are not a plethora of options. If we understand that we need more money, it might be best to commence doing what is necessary to assemble more money — rather than jockeying around the periphery and politically gaming the endgame, the deus we all sense is coming. It might even be a good way to be remembered — ultimately — as the one who was serious.

Monday: ISO a Balanced Approach

With the clock ticking closer towards financial Armageddon and no political compromise in sight, the federal government is starting to look and sound a lot like Pittsburgh. That’s not good. (Wall Street Journal)

Infinonymous alerts us to the fact that a debt refinancing proposed by Mayor Ravenstahl which it is said will save 3 million precious dollars is not without controversy (Infinonymous). There was indeed a long discussion about it at the table last Wednesday, but I wasn’t really tuned in and the video isn’t up yet **-UPDATE II: The video is now up, and it appears Infi’s speculations mirrored the amount of public due diligence applied to all such issues — but as it turned out, there was nothing to worry about in the decision over whether to go after this financial opportunity (either generally or right now instead of “March”). It was preliminarily approved by the Council. *-UPDATE I & III: The City withdrew its pursuit of this high-to-low bond deal refinancing after all, due to investor uncertainty regarding interest rates pertaining to the aforementioned debt ceiling issue, Greece, Ireland, pension uncertainty and other things. “The numbers didn’t work.”

Target opened in East Liberty and it’s a pretty big deal, judging by the amount of SQUEE! in my Facebook feed. (P-G, Mark Belko; Boring Pittsburgh; Null Space)

Councilman Shields asserts that his own party’s County Executive nominee Rich Fitzgerald, as well as members of the ICA board, are lobbying Council to kill his Marcellus drilling ban referendum. (City Paper Slag Heap)

It seems like it’s getting harder to recruit black police officers, or to retain and develop black applicants through the long hiring process. (P-G, Sadie Gurman)

One Pittsburgh — the “recruiting campaign of Pittsburgh United” — helped organize 600 people to attend a town hall to tell Congressional staffers that they want “good jobs”. (P-G, Ann Belser)

Sue Kerr reminds / urges us to sign a petition asking the Pirates to create a video and join the It Gets Better campaign (the Pirates would know about getting better) (

On the Library Tax Ballot Question

Looks like we’re going to see an especially meaty ballot this November.

The question would ask voters if they would support a property tax increase of 0.25 percent, or about $25 for every $100,000 in assessed value. The levy would raise approximately $3.25 million and help close the library system’s budget shortfall. (P-G, Amy McConnell Schaarsmith)

It’ll be interesting to see the results. As an option on the ballot with a webpage, we now have a link for “Our Library Our Future” to the right. If the “Screw the Stinkin’ Lieberries” campaign takes to the World Wide Web, we’ll let you know.

So much to weigh here. There’s something about using the Home Rule Charter or whatever to end-around a hesitant executive at a specific moment in time that seems vaguely imprudent (if that’s what it is). Perhaps more so considering that the funding which Council duly allocated, but the Mayor has long been declining to deliver, was intended to provide mere stopgap funding during a bad economy (and a not-so-great political climate for funding … useful … things) rather provide the state and major donors feelings of calm and reassurance for all time. And of course, with the City having likely passed the event horizon regarding its pension fund, and with federal and state education cuts so prevalent, Pittsburghers are likely to see their property tax bills rise before very long as it is.

Then again if we happen to value our hoary and sprawling Carnegie Library system that much, a dedicated local revenue stream may be the only way to keep it from withering away right along with the rest of City infrastructure and services. And $25 a year per hundred large doesn’t seem like a lot, especially when you know what you’re getting.

Now here’s your impertinent discussion topic for the blog post. We have Patrick Dowd leading the charge within City Hall for a libraries referendum, and Doug Shields at the head of a similar anti-drilling cohort. Once upon a time we thought — if the election went well for the forces of Greater Team Progressive — that those frustrated in loyal opposition would use their strengthened and reaffirmed political capital during this once-in-a-generation window of majority dissidence (with the dependably rebellious Shields still on the legislature) to put very different kinds of referendums on the ballot. Fundamental, structural changes. Perhaps something to alter how board, authority and commission members are appointed and removed, or perhaps even Departmental directors. Or even something confining the Mayor’s role to vetoing bills and issuing proclamations, whilst a City Manager appointed by the Council actually runs city operations. There would have been legitimate arguments to make about what “absolute power” tends to do and what one hopes the power of consensus might do instead.

However, as it turns out, the ballot will be employed only to effect changes (or reaffirmations) on very specific issues for rather specific constituencies. All of us apparently remain enthused about our Strong Mayor system of government continuing on into the foreseeable future. It’s noteworthy, considering.


On the City Charter Kibosh on Gas Drilling

If you haven’t already listened to this delicious hour of audio (focused squarely on Pitt, Penn State, Southwestern PA and a Mt. Pleasant zoning controversy) then shame on you for six weeks:

Applicable and timely to the point of required listening in light of news that:

First thoughts:

1. “Conceivably” a Charter amendment would be harder to overturn than the mere drilling ban law which Councilman Doug Shields introduced and the City enacted last year.

2. Does this mean that Shields somehow came under the impression that future Councils — perhaps near-term future Councils — will be more amenable to taking advantage of this tremendous, game-changing opportunity for America, for the region and for the City that is clean-burning natural gas from the Marcellus Shale, and all the jobs, revenue, energy independence and energy affordability it will conceivably create?

3. How would such a referendum to ban local drilling fare at the polls here? Could it reach 80-20 in favor? Very few leaseholders in the City, and lots of Democrats excited about their rivers, all conditioned by a popular civic narrative which emphasizes overcoming pollution. Is that part of the impetus — more activism and debate centered around Pittsburgh?

4. Are we witnessing the beginnings of a universe featuring Douglas Shields as the AntiKlaber?

The Politics of Götterdämmerung

Keeping this in mind, this indicates a redshift:

Council President Darlene Harris and member Patrick Dowd already have raised the specter of abolishing the authority, a warning that the parking authority should start cooperating with council. And soon. (P-G Edit Board)

Circumspection is so 2010. Scientists and futurists will note the term “pension fund” only appeared in this editorial in relation to “state takeover,” but that may be like trying to apply quantum theory to toast a bagel when the power goes out.

PA Gas Drilling Recommendations Voted On Tomorrow

Pins and needles, right?

Here’s a lovely bit of hand-wringing over process by Laura Olson at P-G E.R., on what the Marcellus Shale Adviiiiiisory Commission is going to do tomorrow.

It sounds like this commission will do a good job helping the Governor figure out exactly what he wants to do. Of course it seems like he already has a pretty good idea what he wants to do in general — and has every reason to believe he will have the votes (actual, legislative) to get it passed. So on the margins, check to see if the penalties to be levied for actual apprehended drilling violations come out high, low, or hilariously low.

Tom Corbett says, Educate This

Here we go.

“The school districts have their responsibilities to their voters as to how they’re going to budget,” [Corbett] said. “I regret seeing anybody get laid off, but the budgets right now are very, very tight.” (Morning Call, John L. Micek)

So education is no longer a very high priority to Pennsylvania in general. And forget reasonably equal opportunity to education.

(Or — #shiver# — vouchers are MAGIC!)