Monthly Archives: September 2012

Police Chief Nate Harper, in Homewood.

Yesterday, at the Homewood-Brushton YMCA, on the invitation of the Alliance for Police Accountability and others.

Credit to Nunyaman

Required Reading: Finances, Pensions, Work

Read these three articles. Let us begin…

Carrying just a 1% cushion is just awful. Awful! Know that.
All credible experts say governments should carry at least 4-5% for [finger quotes] “just in case.” Meteor strikes and more routine bad news. Flooding. Unexpected company.
Borrowing interest rates are at historic lows, so Rich Fitzgerald’s idea to float a bond is by no means ludicrous. Yet it is so much more pleasant going into debt when we can imagine returns on investments in specific programs or infrastructure — debt simply to fill the cash box seems unfortunate. Especially if there is a structural deficit at work, and we are just going to have to go to the well once again in a couple years.
Enter new Republican County Council member at-large Heather Heidelbaugh:

“I am in favor of an entire package that would look at raising revenues in ways we haven’t considered in 15 years and then rolling back the millage,” she said.

The county needed an additional $12 million to $14 million to close its budget gap, and it might be able to find some of that revenue in revised fee schedules, she said. “It is responsible to look at how much an individual user of government services is paying for a service and whether that covers the actual cost [of providing it],” she said.

“We also might be able to raise some revenue in a capitalistic way in the medical examiner’s office,” she said. (ibid)

Heidelbaugh is talking in a way that I like to hear. Keeping the scornful rhetoric in check. Strumming her partisan ideology like a steady bass guitar, not wailing on it solo like some kind of double-necked synth.
If county Democrats can begin working with some credible Republican governing partners, that can only help move things along.
Also, a note on gas drilling on County land for County profit: This Region Be Fracking. There is no ignoring that. If we can identify and vet an Allegheny County site and get involved in pursuing a pilot project, the public oversight employed might turn the whole thing into an excellent laboratory experiment. That is, in addition to the revenue, which, once again, we seem to require in an awful way.
Oh, but one last thing [Columbo impersonation] take note that we recently discovered that back when we raised the sales tax by 1%, we didn’t break the County by any means.
It’s nice to have a rock star institution in the heart of the city, and the Mark Nordenberg needs to be congratulated for that.

“The universities taking property off the tax rolls has always been an issue,” said Frank Gamrat, a senior research associate with the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy in Castle Shannon. “But there are a lot of positives to having them there. They bring people into the city to work. Those people contribute to the city indirectly, through wage taxes and supporting other businesses. (ibid)

I don’t see why we must have so much trouble conceiving of both. Appreciate and cultivate the wages, revenue and activity the University provides, while understanding that property tax exemptions present serious issues of imbalance. It was not this hard to build out a sewer system, for example, back when steel and coal were the driving forces.
Public officials need to continue working on divining appropriate instruments by which we might glean for the public only appropriate shares of our Non-For-Profits’ impressively deft wealth aggregation practices. Even if those solutions are narrowly tailored by case or category.

In 2008, [Nordenberg] agreed to chair a 13-member committee assembled by Ravenstahl and then-Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato to study the pros and cons of consolidating city and county governments.

Though the group worked for 17 months, little came of its report recommending “functional cooperation,” Nordenberg acknowledged.

“There clearly was resistance,” Nordenberg said. “It has not gone far at all, and so you could say that perhaps it has become yet another of those reports that is gathering dust on shelves.” (ibid)

That old thing (pdf). To think this was once exciting. The idea was to obliterate just one government out of over a hundred (the City of Pittsburgh) and turn it into an “Urban Services District” of the County. Practicalities and functional consolidations and cooperations were missing from the focus, and the ambient disengagement turned the much-anticipated final product into a poison pill. There is so much refreshing frankness in this interview with Nordy — the up-side of a puff piece.
Oh, and one more thing … and this just popped into my inbox yesterday … the affordability of college education? Word is out on the street, it doesn’t add up for most people. Soon it will be trendy to say, “college is a rip off”.

I had seen the characterization of this as “crazy”, but not the defense of it as “absolutely false.” That debate is rather important.
We must needs use Michael Lamb’s sortie here, and the fundamental pension-management issues surrounding it, as a springboard to begin considering these Lamb / Peduto / Ravenstahl determinations facing Pittsburgh soon. And in a very capitalistic way. Pittsburgh deserves clarity as to its options as early as workable, so it can make real and conscious choices when those times come. This major project however will have to wait until next week. And unfortunately for Our Controller we can’t simply rely on financial numbers and transparency practices… there are neighborhood development issues, infrastructure issues, personality issues, boy this will take the whole solid week of the 17th.


Political Obstruction Works Here

Since RAD and the Port Authority share an attorney, the board of RAD is paying an outside lawyer $275 an hour to figure out whether it can fund Port Authority transit and thus avert the collapse of a fragile deal between the workers and state government.

The total legal bill should come to about $70 or a long liquid lunch.
All the Port Authority would have to do is to qualify as a “civc asset” in the minds of the RAD board itself, which is not remotely a stretch as these things go. Interpretable phrasing is there to interpret.
Some board members evidently felt the need to ask for a legal opinion either to provide them with political cover for making that leadership decision, or else drag this out further so as to continue poisoning the well against the deal.
There are three camps opposed to using the $3M in RAD money to leverage $30M from the state:
1) Ideologues to the political right of Tom Corbett who believe the biggest problem here is that the Port Authority is “addicted to money,” who instead of supporting the compromise struck with the Governor would rather lock the Agency in a cell, starve and humiliate it until it dies, and replace it with something more private and less unionized.
2) Politicians who aren’t wild about Rich Fitzgerald strutting around like he owns the joint, appointing notable crazy ladies to key advisory panels and saying “green this” and “I agree with my friend from the East End” that.
3) Folks who are anxious that transit funding should not diminish support for cultural organizations, and may be susceptible to “slippery slope” arguments involving long-term commitments, water treatment plants and parking garages.
Group #1 obviously can’t get its job done by itself. Group #2 is happy to support Group #1’s work in stirring up taxpayer outrage and popular chaos (more mentions of the drink tax, please!) at least up until the point where transit actually explodes. But in dealing with the RAD board, on which Fitzgerald has the upper hand, neither can really gain traction unless they involve Group #3.
Hence the need for more time to wage more back room campaigns and manufacture more news stories which include the word “tax,” as though they’re being raised somewhere. The notoriously secretive “ripcord” clause in the new Port Authority contract can only be so hard to activate, right?
Pgh City Paper thinks the stability for transit and for other tax rates is worth it… Null Space notices the RAD tax didn’t stop Allegheny County from outperforming most of the rest of the region.
Image: UFC, MMA Worldwide

Caption Contest #1, and Links

If that’s not enough inspiration for you on a grey Tuesday which feels like a Monday, see the already inimitable Len Boselovic.
Don’t you people want to comment any further on my sewers post?
If you wish to learn more about the responses and what is driving the continued debate over Clint Eastwood’s RNC speech (“got together a group of deeply disaffected voters”), you can read the always surprising La Times.
If you’d rather learn about Romney’s post-convention bounce, what it means for key states and who is looking more likely to win, see everybody’s favorite FiveThirtyEight.
If you missed the latest in the riverfront / URA / Buncher saga, see the new boss, Jeremy Boren.

Photo credit – Roxanne Tuinstra

Harrisburg: A Case Study in Seduction

“So what you have is, you have the financial advisor, makes $142,000 on this $30 million notes; that’s a lot of money. Now, the County had a law firm, the City had a law firm, you know it’s…”

“How many law firms are on this list?”
“It’s, um — financial advisors like to call this the Noah’s Ark of public financing. Meaning, there’s two of everything.”
My guess: no “criminality” here, Certificate 81-10B notwithstanding. Not unless for decades, every room and phone in Dauphin County was bugged 24/7 for passing ill-advised intimations of quid-pro-quo type arrangements — and even then it would be a matter for interpretation.
Transparent stupidity which befuddles generations is not against any law.
TERRIFYINGLY RELATED: Wall Street’s War Against Cities — Why Bondholders Can’t, and Shouldn’t, Be Paid (Michael Hudson, Naked Capitalism)

Image credit *SnowFright, deviantart