Council Sends Frank & Open Letter to Ravenstahl

In the letter, Council members Harris, Kraus, Peduto, Rudiak and Shields make clear that they will merely be temporarily suspending expanded parking meter enforcement (sorry, Ginny) until such time as the Parking Authority comes around to Council’s way of thinking.

*-UPDATE: Mayor Ravenstahl and Finance Director / chief administrative officer on financial matters Scott Kunka each respond in short statements.

Further, the Harris majority is setting out to transfer $1.3 million from the city’s 2011 general fund balance [which we all hope will exist] to the pension fund.

That “further” part has us a mite confused. As part of its New Years Eve deal, Council already diverted money from the parking tax (which winds up in the general fund) over to the pension fund. The difficulty has been that this general fund revenue has not been replaced by Parking Authority revenue as Council had intended. Is Council here saying that the Powers That Be have refused also to move the parking tax money over to the pension fund to begin with? Because otherwise, why send more money over to the pensions than previously arranged?

The timing of the nastygram makes this all the more curious. The fact that Councilman Patrick Dowd, a leading architect of Council’s New Years’ Eve plan and critic of the Mayor’s alternative, did not cosign today’s missive is only mildly curious.

Meanwhile, just to stir the pot a little further, check out how folks from Harrisburg are seeing these machinations:

The City of Pittsburgh this morning submitted its new municipal pension shortfall estimates to the state, hoping to avert a state takeover of the fund. The submission was the culmination of a two-year battle between council, which wanted to dedicate future parking revenue to the fund, and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who preferred shoring up the fund through leasing the parking facilities. Council ended up getting its way; now we get to see if it actually worked. If it doesn’t, expect the mayor (after a hearty round of “I told you so”) to re-submit his plan to lease the city’s parking garages. (Triadvocate)

That ain’t necessarily so. But it ain’t necessarily not so.

41 thoughts on “Council Sends Frank & Open Letter to Ravenstahl

  1. Minuteman

    Regarding Harrisbug – their situation is not good news for Pittsburgh. The state is not going to cut them any slack – and if that's how it goes for them, it doesn't make any sense to expect Pittsburgh to get anything more. A precedent is currently being established that bodes ill for us.

    Accusing the mayor of playing politics is very disingenuous, in my view. Politics is what led council to oppose the lease deal. They wanted to stick it to Luke, first and foremost. The other reasons they offered for opposition were flimsy and ever-shifting.

    No one loved the idea of leasing the parking assets…but it was the right thing to do. It would have funded the pension, and it would have improved the system overall. LAZ was going to modernize the system, fix run-down garages, and implement BADLY needed good management practices. None of that is going to get done now…and I seriously doubt “Wall Street” (to use Peduto's oft-flung epithet) is going to take our calls if we try and reach out to them again.

    What a sad, deplorable, unnecessary charade…really, it's a fitting end to decades and decades of shenanigans and mismanagement where a major municipal authority and the pension fund are concerned.

  2. MH

    LAZ was going to modernize the system, fix run-down garages, and implement BADLY needed good management practices.

    The mayor's plan finally would have brought good management practices to the parking system that is run entirely by people appointed by the mayor. Got it.

    Did typing that into the computer give you a clue as to the actual problem?

  3. Anonymous


    Probably no greater a problem than Council typing in its' letter that it was introducing comanion legislation to move $1.3 million from the City's fund balance into the Pension Fund.

  4. MH

    For the point of view of a resident, how does a parking tax differ from paying higher parking rates to a private company?

  5. Minuteman

    MH, leasing the garages would have brought them under the control of a different management group. You do understand that, right?

  6. BrianTH

    Do we really have to go through all this again? Council's plan is a worse one for the City financially–their own hired-gun consultant said so–which means it is a worse deal for the City's taxpayers. And it also has a bunch of other practical downsides, as we are seeing with the completely inept process by which Council has tried to get the new revenues.

    The only way a rational person could even conceivably prefer Council's plan is if you somehow believed the state was going to let the City off the hook for a large portion of its future pension obligations, and then let the City take back some of those promised revenues, but for some reason the state wouldn't do any of that under the lease deal.

    That nest of contingencies makes no particular sense to begin with, and as the first comment points out, what is happening to Harrisburg right now should throw a lot of cold water on the theory that if Pittsburgh just flagellates itself enough, eventually the state just MUST relent and let the City trim its pension obligations.

  7. Minuteman

    MH, I do understand that…but it's a non-sequitor. The point was that if LAZ took over as described, they would have managed the operations of garages independently of the Pittsburgh Parking Authority Board of Directors.

  8. MH

    How it is a non-sequitor to think that maybe the guy who appointed the PPA board isn’t going to do any better picking the next group of managers?

  9. Bram Reichbaum

    BUT Minuteman if the PPA board is the problem, they could just as easily be replaced by other / better board members as by the private sector, I believe is MH's point.

    I think you stand a better chance of arguing: no one with LAZ/JP's experience and capacity in the mass car parking business is going to sit on a volunteer board, or sit under one for mere peanuts. Part of the lure of privatization is, you actually gain the benefit of having the world's doers, titans, geniuses work with you. Dagny Taggart, George Hearst and the like.

    I'm not positive that doesn't make sense, if you're starting out with a $1+ billion problem and are determined to solve for X.

  10. West End

    So, council smugly voted down the Mayor's proposal because “people don't want parking rates raised”. Then they voted to raise parking rates. Then the mayor proposed cutting back the hours, which has now been followed by council cutting back the hours.
    While all of this is going on, council is also pissed because a board they have no control over,(which I think they created?), isn't doing what they tell it to do.
    Also, the mayor should be in town when bad things unexpectedly happen.
    Pittsburgh is like that kid in school who turned out great despite having a drunk and a whore for parents.

  11. Conservative Mountaineer

    And, yet everyone or almost everyone is focusing on getting the pension funded *at 50%* (snort) and ignoring the option that (*gasp*) maybe, just maybe the pension plan needs a serious re-write and *all* in the pension plan need to come to the realization that they were sold a bad bill of goods by shyster (read: Democrat) politicians for the last 70 years. Live with it. Like all of us in the private sector had to and still have to.

    But, that's not the way it works for you public sector employees, is it?

  12. rich10e

    if the state takes “a hope and a prayer” from City Council in the form of future parking revenues to fill the pension shortfall, then we all need help!

  13. Anonymous

    If I recall, the LAZ deal included keeping the Parking Auth or at least keeping David Onotato. Speaking of which, what the hell does he have to say for himself? Damn, let's bring it all out in the open. Selective memory at this point is tedious. Why didn't the Auth ramp up for this change-over sooner (could it be spite)? This is all being done to get LAZ back. And, by the way, where's Lukie spending his long week-end?

  14. Bram Reichbaum

    Anon 7:29 – What does David Onorato have to say for himself? Per the Mayor's statement: “The people have spoken: I am officially asking the Parking Authority to increase time limits at meters from one hour to two hours.” That 'officially' is a tell. If we've gotten no where else at all during this ribald chapter, we know now the Mayor no longer must follow the Prime Directive when it comes to city authorities.

    You ask 'by the way', where's Lukie spending his long weekend? Are you serious? Who cares? If something very unfortunate happens to the City in his absence, my only hope is that he comes back to ask and answer questions in less than 96 hours.

  15. n'at

    as i recall from out-of-print periodicals, we'd be traversing the town by way of jet packs by now. Further, though from recent print, a 51% funded pension is not necescellary on a track to sustainability.

    keenly misunderestimated is the cornucopia of options the city still has available now and forever. options that the city would not have had, if the city chose to lease miserly managed, moderately sustainable, crumbing assets to private enterprise which is in the business of running a business.

    accountantified, lawyerly wordsmithings can be undone by willful, majority bodies.

  16. MH

    PAT buses are better than jet packs (and cars) if you drink enough.

    N'at's point is right. The lease was always the best option if you assumed that they would (and could) keep all of their promise and if you ignored opportunity costs. The wisdom of those assumptions is problematic.

  17. Anonymous

    I know I am late to this party, but Minuteman is correct. the problem here is management. MH is misguided on his criticism of the PA board. He is not completely off base, but misguided. The problem is that the PA board has never been allowed to independently manage the PA. Someone, either council or the Mayor, is always telling them what to do or not do. In the past it may have been “not raise rates” or “don't raise in this neighborhood,” now it is lease or don't lease. the mere act of telling the PA that it now has to be a slush fund for the City is inappropriate. If you want the PA to be a revenue generator for the City, then dissolve it and have the City take back the assets. The City could easily float a bond to pay off the PA debt and buy back the assets (well maybe not easily given the City's financial situation), but could be done. The problem then is that council would be accountable. They don't want that. They like blaming the PA. Don't want to raise taxes at the Water Authority? Implement a new $5 charge and don't call it an rate increase. Want to fund libraries? Don't raise taxes or earmark $$$ from general fund, just use four council seats on the library board to increase taxes. Want more money in the operating fund without raising taxes? Require the PA to raise rates and send over slush money. Ah, the essence of not being accountable is the reason for being of this council.

  18. MH

    Not that I wish to agree with all of council's actions (see above), but leasing the parking assets to a private company would have been a really good way to dodge accountability from the point of view of the mayor. And as near as I can tell, the mayor's office is taking the lead on keeping the pension funding levels from the public.

    Also, the library board has no taxing power. They are actually trying to get a vote on increasing taxes. I have no idea how that can be dodging accountability. Sometimes I wonder if there isn't a website that tells people buzzwords to put into arguments on teh interwebs.

  19. Andy C.

    The library tax/fee referendum is a huge political dodge engineered by a group of local string-pullers who love to preach about accountability until it applies to them. A couple of the least utilized libraries should have been closed a couple of years ago, but no one on council or the library board had the guts or honesty to proceed with a closing. Now we have a referendum to tax Pittsburgh families to support the libraries. It's marketed as a grassroots effort but was actually concocted almost a year ago–actually at a higher rate–by an unaccountable “task force” of local politicians and foundation types trying to shift blame and responsibility for library mismanagement away from library board members. In this town, old money shall call the shots but not take the fall. So … if the referendum passes the public pays and council and the library board is off the hook. If if fails, the board says, “Sorry, but we'll have to close libraries.” See, it's not council or the board's fault; the public has spoken!

  20. MH

    If you want to argue that those libraries should be closed, that's entirely reasonable. If you want to argue that the library board has other types of mismanagement, I'd like some evidence. The bar for poor management is really high in this area.

    If you'd like to continue to argue that seeking a public vote on something is less accountable than taking a decision without public input, you should maybe consider a dictionary. You can get one at the library. Trying other options before cutting services is a completely reasonable action on the part of a board.

  21. Andy C.

    And then there's the whole RAD thing

    Where is the RAD money that was supposed to fund libraries? Who spent it, who got it, who's withholding public funding for libraries? That's where the grassroots activism should be focused, not on putting an item on the ballot asking the public to give more money for the library, over and above RAD and other taxes.

    My point about the public vote MH is that its rigged–at the risk of repeating myself, it's a lose/lose proposition for city residents that provides an easy out for the folks who are charged with making tough decisions and responsibly managing public finances and assets. And services have already been cut–shorter hours, less staff–and fees and fines have increased.

  22. MH

    If you're arguing that the tax increase will fail at the polls and that the county should pay more anyway, I agree.

    It's just that I have recently been unable to notice how political arguments seem keep the exact same attacks regardless of how applicable they are. And you keep providing examples of that. As I've said, I agree with what I think you are saying about the vote likely failing. However, nearly every local contest in a general election is less “fixed” than this vote.

  23. Anonymous

    MH – evidence of mismanagement? This isn't rocket science. Just look at whether the library budget has increased or decreased over the past decade. then ask why they need to close libraries. That is called mismanagement. If this were anyone else, lets say, a private corporation, you would be screaming mismanagement from the rooftops. Has anyone been allowed to audit the library books? Nope. Thus, no evidence is allowed to be found. Are library board meeting open to anyone in the public? Nope. Agreeing with Adam C. that this is not a grass roots movement, look no further than Brian O'Neil's column well before this effort was announced commenting on how Pittsburgh could withstand a small tax increase to support public institutions.

  24. MH

    Brian O'Neill has two l's and I cannot see why a newspaper columnist supporting something is somehow not grassroots or that not being grassroots is somehow evil.

    I can also see, despite pulling up the Rand report and budgets, any evidence of rapidly increasing spending. I do see evidence of more services being provided and that fits with what I see when I go to the library. Resources and facilities and staffing are much better than they were 8 years ago.

  25. Bram Reichbaum

    Firstly, I had the opposite impression. I thought the Libraries referendum was a mortal lock — because A) the referendum could be interpreted as, “Do you like libraries? Also puppies?” and B) because even if you don't know what “mills” are, the figure 0.25 just screams, “small”, and C) there are Yes supporters out and organized, and will have the support of some of the media, whereas the No supporters don't seem to have launched a campaign.

    Now on the merits — I have no problem believing there is waste or sub-ideal management at the Libraries. None. However I agree that the case has not been made, the inductive reasoning argument does not impress (gas prices, building materials, and everything else goes up as a matter of course) and moreover I though RAD *did* perform an audit, and there were no smoking guns brandished.

    Should Library meetings be open to the public? Now THAT is an interesting question. If the argument is that they accept so much public money, I can buy that, but that will apply to a LOT of institutions indeed. That having been said I've never been satisfied with the Library's response to that criticism. Call me naive, but average citizens demand government meetings be open to the public not just because we're paying for them, but because we are convinced decision making will be improved if the meetings are open. Are the Libraries saying they believe increased community scrutiny will make them worse? As an educational institution, would open meetings not be another way to involve and educate the public on a variety of topics?

  26. Andy C.

    And actually, there are a number of politically influential East Enders opposed to it as well, but as you sort of note, it's a difficult environment in which to raise ones voice against puppies, motherhood and libraries.

  27. Andy C.

    Back in the fall, just before I was to attend a meeting at my local library branch to discuss ways to prop up the library system, I was coincidentally contacted to take an telephone survey about the libraries, which I did. It was really long, poorly thought out, and rather manipulative, kind of like a push poll. It kept circling back to the possibility of putting a tax referendum on the ballot, and the proposed rate was higher than the current one (I forget what it was, however). I kept responding that I didn't support a tax and the survey person would make a statement like, “Libraries keep our kids off the street, out of jail and away from drugs. Knowing that, do you now support doing x, y and z to save the libraries?”

    A couple days later I called library management and asked them if I could have a printed copy of the survey (which by the way, was conducted by an out-of-state polling firm)and/or could they provide it to folks at the local branch community meeting that I was going to attend, for discussion purposes. No, they couldn't provide because it was done by the public-private task force, but maybe the task force could help me. So I talked to Bruce Kraus, one of the talk force members, and he said he'd look into it. (I talked to somebody else on the task force too, but can't remember who.) Ultimately, nobody came up with the goods.

    So that's the kind of transparency and “grassroots” effort that we're dealing with here.

  28. MH

    What you want for “transparency” would make it impossible for any organized group to grow into a challenge to existing political bodies. And I suspect you know this.

    If elected officials and giant non-profits can poll and develop strategy in private but nobody else can, nobody else will be able to participate in a debate.

  29. Anonymous

    Bram, why didn't my last post show up?

    MH – you are actually proving the point. It is not ok when UPMC strategizes in private on how to manipulate the public and misuse public assets. You, however, give a pass to the library simply because it is a library. The is a recipe for disaster and quite heinous actually. The library knows people are out there like you and they are playing that card effectively. It is rather disgusting that they would use children and have them sign petitions in crayon, but hey the Fracosaur needs colored too.

  30. Bram Reichbaum

    Anon 7:16- My apologies. Google Blogger provides a spam filter, which has been useful, but sometimes is a pain. Thanks to you Ijust now noticed and marked as Not Spam about four comments in that queue. Of course, I haven't seen them appear yet so that is supremely annoying.

    I see you at 7:16. (You can try to remember what you wrote earlier.) It's not a strong analogy. UPMC is literally monopolizing a vital asset of regional security, whereas Carnegie Libraries are at worst skimming a bit of cream off the parking tax (or the foundations are managing to avoid greater burdens to their other priorities). Totally different. Me, I'm leaning towards giving public libraries a lifeline now that they have the opportunity to have one. Fixing any problems therein is plainly steps 2 through infinity. That may not mean open meetings but I imagine it's got to mean open records? And expenditures are sanctified at meetings.

  31. MH

    I'm stopping this because Anon at 7:16 is either a great troll or a huge idiot. Either way, if you run for office, you'll do well.


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