Thursday: Squaring the Circle


So this is also interesting:

“If they refuse, it is my understanding that the city could remove the partially constructed sign on their behalf and then charge the company and/or the Parking Authority for that expense. Either way, it is time this blight and sign of poor government administration be removed from such an important location,” Mr. Dowd said. (P-G, Joe Smydo)

What happens if LAZ Parking and their Wall Street investment bankers add yet another sweetener to the deal — if they offer to cover the Parking Authority’s expenses in dismantling this troublesome sign on its headquarters, including any hypothetical lawsuit from Lamar Advertising?

On this issue, I’m finally going to have to play the self-interest card. I have a hard enough time impressing anybody with the idea that I’m a local political blogger. One of my best moves is to arrange a meeting somewhere near the corner of Grant and Liberty, and then casually mention, “Oh, funny story about that half-a-sign over there…”

When I first started this writing experiment, there was another blog — anonymously authored — which was the most entertaining and by far the most informative portal onto Grant Street at the time. Most of what I learned about the scene, I learned from it. These were the very early days of the Ravenstahl administration, so much of which was regrettably slapstick at its improvised outset. It is a matter of public record that this other blog dished the puck onto my stick in regards to that billboard story, and once I pulled the trigger — well, that was my brand. Viva la revolución.

Lately I’ve been writing a lot about “pragmatism”, and with some distance from those heady events I believe that’s where my core political convictions lie. It’s consistent then that in my ideal Pittsburgh, sure, I’d prescribe some technocratic outsider for a captain, bloodthirsty after government savings but with a bleeding heart for the poor — or maybe more of a mercurial, swashbuckling intellectual. Yet the Pittsburgh we all know and love, like any other mid-size metropolis, is going to produce leaders whose core strengths lie in human politics — a lifetime of coming up through the apparatus, forging alliances, working the community, making enemies and pandering earnestly to constituencies. Just like every one of the folks we happen to know.

The mission is to remove impediments to getting that motley human concerto to perform well, which can be defined as being far-sighted, innovative and compassionate. “Mission impossible”, one might quip — but most public servants sincerely desire nothing more than to perform well. It only helps to provide them with a safe and inviting space for working out that which is most “well”, and to expose and remove those impediments.

I don’t happen to think that a $60 million annual aggregate penalty for a lack of negotiating skills, or a billion dollar surcharge for coming around to a compromising attitude a little too late, qualifies as doing particularly well. Some residents actually depend on city government services to a degree that such latitude is not an acceptable option.

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All of which is to say it sticks in my craw that we were credulously instructed at the table yesterday that the most recent proposal to contract out our government-run parking system is “just like the deal in Chicago”, and that those who believe otherwise must be poorly read, dimwitted or much worse. The evidence presented for this was a few national news stories describing increasing interest in infrastructure partnerships across the country, the highlight being a potty-mouthed ideologue at Rolling Stone with his own branding concerns.

The Mayor of Chicago presented his parking deal a mere 24 hours before that city’s council was asked to vote on it — a procedural crime deserving of the boycotts and vandalism which followed. In Pittsburgh we were informed of the proposal almost 2 years in advance, had the complete contractual details in hand 2 months prior to a scheduled vote (during which time said proposal suffered in a vacuum of any discussion of our alternatives) and have all been substantively and successfully negotiating for an additional 2 months and counting. Very different.

In Chicago there was no competitive process for the concessionaire, or for the broker / transactional advisor. In Pittsburgh, both functions were subject to formal RFPs and long bidding processes to which no one can credibly raise any objection. Very different.

In Chicago no study was done to ascertain the value of the assets until after the fact, which made for a very unpleasant and clear demonstration of Chicago having gotten ripped off. In Pittsburgh the Council rightfully ordered a such an outside professional analysis beforehand, only to discover that the present value of the assets is about $50 million less than the dowry which was actually offered. Very different indeed.

Lumping in the Pittsburgh deal with that of Chicago, if you will excuse the muddled metaphorical time line, is like arguing that since the Iraq War was such a fiasco we should never have stormed the beaches at Normandy and liberated Europe, because war is war is war. Then again, opposition to a serious monetization of our government-run parking system has rarely roused itself very much beyond a noun, a verb, “Wall Street investment bankers” and “Chicago”. It has been distinctly (and shockingly) hackneyed, political, non-empirical and anti-intellectual at almost every turn.

There have been better arguments against a professional services accord, and sounder considerations including some real popular opposition — and this blog will respectfully engage these while there is still time to forge a new compromise solution. But I thought it best to dispense with the crap first.

53 thoughts on “Thursday: Squaring the Circle

  1. Anonymous

    Yes but, no matter how much notice is given, a bad deal is still a bad deal. Too bad the latest one was compared by one councilmember to Chicago's, but, so what?

    And regarding council members and their motivations, last night I was at a party that included four of our more learned council members. Upon overhearing a conversation that one of the council members was having, a committee member in attendance quipped that “council isn't a bunch of ditchdiggers anymore.”

    That, I believe, is progress.

    Reply
  2. MH

    On the sign, I think they should just sell the rights to the highest bidder. It's a parking garage. It isn't going to look that great.

    Reply
  3. BrianTH

    The “so what” is that certain people are getting away with substituting empty pseudopopulist rhetoric for real policy analysis in order to avoid making any hard choices. Or, in other words, this issue is getting tea-bagged.

    And that is no way to run a city, state, or country.

    Reply
  4. Bram Reichbaum

    Anon 9:30 writes: “And regarding council members and their motivations, last night I was at a party that included four of our more learned council members.

    Going by the numbers that'd include Dowd (doctorate) and Burgess (two masters). How were they?

    Yes but, no matter how much notice is given, a bad deal is still a bad deal

    And the takeover is what exactly? Not your concern?

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  5. MH

    The main issue isn't the “Wall Street” thing, it is the local government getting to keep its shallow grave of fiscal tricks still buried and the actual cost of its services hidden. Let the state take over, then see about a getting the extra revenue/funds.

    Reply
  6. Anonymous

    The takeover should have been our mayor's concern and it obviously wasn't.

    Placing blame solely on council would only make sense if they hadn't come up with alternatives to the lease, which we know isn't true.

    I don't understand why some of you folks can't accept that there could [have] be[en] solutions beyond the lease.

    At the end of the day, the onus for compromise and viable solution-making is the responsibility of the mayor's office and they failed. Making Burgess your messenger at the 11th hour for a watered-down version of your original (rejected by council plan) does not make for a sound or successful ending.

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  7. BrianTH

    Council's proposed solution was for the Parking Authority to raise rates and issue new debt in addition to its existing debt, with the proceeds from the new debt going into the pension fund. The Parking Authority, understandably in my view, rejected this proposal.

    So now what?

    I also don't see how only the Mayor is responsible for compromise. Any party with veto power is responsible for how it exercises that power. The Parking Authority's mandate is limited to parking issues, and it vetoed a proposal which it saw as being bad for parking.

    That leaves the Mayor and Council as veto points, and they are responsible for negotiating a compromise within their greater mandate to do what is best for the City overall. But again, what has Council done to negotiate a compromise since the Parking Authority vetoed its debt proposal? Pretty much nothing, except lay the groundwork for pointing fingers (twittering about being the “good guys” and such).

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  8. Anonymous

    It's a shame that Council doesn't have a few ditch-diggers – the ditch-diggers in the city (that is, the folks who can be bothered to show up & vote in primaries) deserve to be represented as well. Whatever constituency Bill “Good Guy” Peduto is representing has not been able to inspire him to stay in a race and share the goodness. To sum up Monk, the ability of Bill to speak for the City outside of f'n Shadyside has been “universally panned”.

    Otherwise, count me as skeptical that Council (short of the Bad Guys) have presented any alternatives beyond an abysmally weak poke at life insurance policy fraud.

    Peduto is dancing a jig for his Takeover Plan…meanwhile the folks whose pensions and pocketbooks are on the line are STILL WONDERING how we're going to make the payments post-takeover.

    The Good Guys framed the question to Pittsburgh and environs thus: “do you want your parking rates to increase?”

    They missed the prequalifier: “do you know what will happen when the state takes over the pension fund? Let us know when you find out – we'll be at a cocktail party that you weren't invited to.”

    “Good Guys, bad guys – which is which? The white-collar worker or the digger of the ditch?” Forget Girl Talk, maybe someone will sponsor a Standells Day Proclamation…

    Bram, do you still think “East End Cocktail Parties” is that far off base?

    Reply
  9. BrianTH

    Oh yeah, I should have noted I don't think it brings credit on anyone to treat the life insurance scam as a serious alternative.

    I really wonder how much of this is attributable to Council just foolishly boxing themselves in. They really didn't have all the relevant numbers available when they decided to summon up the pitchfork crowd, and on such stark, uncompromising terms. So maybe now they see themselves as having no choice but riding the car over the cliff.

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  10. MH

    …meanwhile the folks whose pensions and pocketbooks are on the line are STILL WONDERING how we're going to make the payments post-takeover.

    Because everyone with a private sector defined contribution plan has had it so easy these past couple of years.

    Reply
  11. Anonymous

    Pension default is one bad thing – cutting city services is another. I can't be the only one halfway into my first salt bag of the season. Maybe the Good Guys will shovel us out on their way to Cappy's?

    Reply
  12. BrianTH

    There is no reason to believe any existing pensions won't be paid. The City's stakeholders, on the other hand, will likely face increased taxes and/or reduced services.

    Reply
  13. MH

    The City's stakeholders, on the other hand, will likely face increased taxes and/or reduced services.

    How is that different from the lease? The question remains who is going to get taxed (or charged more) and how.

    Reply
  14. Bram Reichbaum

    Anon 11:51 wrote, “At the end of the day, the onus for compromise and viable solution-making is the responsibility of the mayor's office and they failed.

    One could just as easily say it lies in the Council President's office, but … it looks like you want me to take back all the glowing things I've written about how the mayor has handled this impasse. But I've never suggested anything like that. I'm not trying to apportion blame for our shared failure [read: campaign] so much as pull shared success out of the jaws of said shared failure.

    If you discount the present-value infusion idea as having come along way too late in the game, and the life-insurance scheme as having been too weird, the only hypothetically viable alternative Council presented was the Council-Controller plan. The Mayor didn't like it (and I still don't see why the Parking Authority should have desired to get involved in it, but…) The Mayor is the mayor and gets to make the occasional determination, by virtue of the fact that a ton of people voted for him and actually remember voting for no new debt and no credit-card swaps. That is not praise so much as a description of the reality of our world, which Council's majority utterly refuses to acknowledge. The Mayor gets to set some parameters and in fact politically will survive this as the champion of the only deals which resulted in large denominations of cash-on-hand.

    So it's either compromise with LAZ, and fix the stated real problems with a services agreement, or fail and fail hard. It looks like they're making it cheaper for parkers than it would have been under the alternative anyway…

    Reply
  15. BrianTH

    How is that different from the lease?

    Well, part of the answer to that question is that the lease proceeds could buy time for reform at the state level to become possible.

    Another part of the answer is that the particular details of financing a lump sum payment in this way ended up being more favorable than the alternatives. That is what Council's handpicked financial adviser concluded (and you can bet that wasn't the answer they wanted to hear).

    Yet another part of the answer to that question is that people SHOULD be paying more for parking–it would be good parking policy, and good land-use and transportation policy. Conversely, one can make no guarantees about the policy effects of whatever combination of measures the state might force on the City's taxpayers and stakeholders.

    In short, assuming the City has to make an equivalent contribution of some kind–and there is no good reason not to accept that assumption–it makes sense to choose the most favorable possible means of making that contribution. And a means that scores relatively well financially and also happens to be good policy is as good as it is going to get.

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  16. MH

    by virtue of the fact that a ton of people voted for him and actually remember voting for no new debt and no credit-card swaps.

    Whatever you want to call it, when somebody gives you a big chunk of money in exchange for a stream of smaller payments over many years, it is functionally new debt. A lease has additional elements that are not debt because the company would be operating the gargages, but nobody talked about that much. LAZ could earn money by operating more efficiently because they don't expect to have to pay as much for labor.

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  17. MH

    Well, part of the answer to that question is that the lease proceeds could buy time for reform at the state level to become possible.

    There will be no push for reform until the pension fund is insolvent again. This isn’t a new problem and there is simply no other way to read local history. There is also no other way to read the incentives of the elected officials. This isn’t (only) a slur on the mayor and council. Loose pension funding formulas allowsthem to offer X dollars in services to people and offer to pay Y*X dollars to workers (where Y is greater than 1). Until a greater authority stops it, every election will be won by somebody dodging on the pension questions. The only greater authorities that can force this are the state and federal governments or bond-buyers.

    The fact remains, nearly 10 years after the first time the city borrowed to top-up the fund, the pension is not in any better shape. Not only is there the shortfall, but a new hire, somebody just off the street walking into HR, still isn't having enough paid into the fund to meet their pension obligations.

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  18. BrianTH

    Whatever you want to call it, when somebody gives you a big chunk of money in exchange for a stream of smaller payments over many years, it is functionally new debt.

    Not if the stream of payments in the future is uncertain, and you are under no obligation to make sure they are a certain amount. The fact that the City would be off-loading its revenue risk is one of the reasons the deal scored relatively well financially (and I personally thought Council's hired gun was VERY conservative on this issue).

    There will be no push for reform until the pension fund is insolvent again.

    It is not like 50% funded is fully-funded. And once again, you are trying to sneak in the notion that somehow the state will be forced to respond by cutting the obligations, as opposed to simply mandating a funding measure.

    This isn’t a new problem and there is simply no other way to read local history.

    Local history is largely irrelevant. Reform must happen at the state level, and it is highly unlikely Pittsburgh alone can force the state to reform. You are proposing the City try to hold itself hostage, but the state will just go ahead and let the City suffer until it is ready for broader pension reform.

    Loose pension funding formulas allowsthem to offer . . .

    You do realize that what they offer is largely irrelevant, right? The key contracts go to binding arbitration, as a matter of state law. The City's only recourse is to hire fewer people, but then the state formula for pension contributions punishes them for having fewer active employees.

    Until a greater authority stops it, every election will be won by somebody dodging on the pension questions.

    Again, you are acting as if the local officials are the ones that matter. They aren't. The ones that matter are the state officials, and they are going to be perfectly happy to let the City suffer. Changing local officials will do nothing to stop that from happening.

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  19. MH

    And once again, you are trying to sneak in the notion that somehow the state will be forced to respond by cutting the obligations, as opposed to simply mandating a funding measure.

    I have no idea what the state will do. I am simply pointing out that, as an empirical fact, these problems were ignored (state and local) outside of a crisis. And that the state has plausible assumptions about market returns and a big enough investment pool to manage market-timing risk.

    The ones that matter are the state officials, and they are going to be perfectly happy to let the City suffer.

    Then why monetize $440 million and make it easier for them to grab? Let them force the lease in six months or whatever. That doesn't change anything except for the “local control.”

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  20. MH

    Joe King seems like a nice enough guy, but I'm not willing to be my 2015 property tax rate on his ability to pick stocks.

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  21. BrianTH

    Let them force the lease in six months or whatever.

    That “or whatever” is a bit of an issue. Instead of something that is actually good policy on its own merits–like the parking lease–the “or whatever” could end up being something that is much, much worse for the City's taxpayers and stakeholders.

    Oh well–when the state forces the City to raise your property taxes, you'll be able to take comfort in the fact that parking policy in the City is still being dictated by politics and not policy, as it should be.

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  22. Anonymous

    Seriously – the oppositional rallying cry was rate increases. How are the outraged folks going to view property tax increases? It was so short-sighted to scuttle this lease deal.

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  23. TED

    The fact that LAZ continues to aggressively pursue the rights to the garages tells me all I need to know. The arguments of Luke/Burgess/Joe King/etc. are be tainted by self-interest.

    Maintaining control of the future parking revenue is the correct decision.

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  24. Bram Reichbaum

    Thanks for engaging, TED. Still ignoring the FSG valuation we fought so hard for I see. Anyway, we'll have a hard time capitalizing on that “revenue potential” when A) the assets continue to be government-run B) that very revenue is flying back out the other window, faster than it comes in, in the form of much higher PMRS pension payments and/or C) the state makes us sell the garages outright in a fire sale, so we don't bring them down with us. Don't think that's not on the table.

    Or maybe the Republican from Jefferson County will save Pittsburgh.

    Reply
  25. BrianTH

    Yes, when people are willing to pay money to buy something, that generally means that they see some value in that thing. That doesn't mean every transaction is a bad deal for the seller–if it wasn't possible for transactions to benefit both buyers and sellers, we'd all still be living in caves, jealously guarding our collection of pointy sticks.

    So, for example, if you find yourself in the possession of an asset and it turns out that in order to maximize its value you would need to invest a lot of new capital in that asset and then operate it with a lot of expertise, and you have neither the capital nor the expertise, it very likely makes financial sense to sell that asset to someone with that capital and expertise. This is particularly true if by doing so you can offload some diversifiable risk. Of course you can then use the proceeds in some financially beneficial way, say by cancelling some liabilities, investing in other assets, and so on. Again, it shouldn't be surprising that sometimes it makes sense for an entity to sell an asset in order to cancel liabilities or buy other assets–entities do this all the time to their financial benefit.

    So the question in such a case is not whether the buyer will benefit. The question is rather whether the seller is getting a fair price or better for the asset. To achieve that end, you might carefully construct a multi-round auction to maximize the price paid. You might also commission an independent valuation of the thing being sold. And so forth.

    So can we stop pretending this is about what makes financial sense? Because in truth that issue was settled long ago, in favor of the deal, but apparently that wasn't the issue after all.

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  26. Rex

    MH:

    There's no need to gamble on what your 2015 property taxes will be, I can tell you.

    Fresh for 2012, you will be taxed based on the first new assessment in a decade. The average property owner will find the new assessed value at or around DOUBLE the 2001 assessment, minus 25%.

    Of course, the City is barred by state law from benefitting by more than 5% from a reassessment, so after $7 million or so in new real estate tax revenue, the City will of course have to reduce the 10.8 millage rate.

    To come up with the $60 extra million for PMRS, we will have to increase the new millage rate by 40% to get there. There is always this talk about wage taxes, but they are unreliable, as suburban municipalities can always raise theirs to capture it and the Legislature swapped our wage taxes with the school district's in 2004 the last time they bailed out the City.

    Of course, the state might have mercy on us, sell our parking assets FOR us, and then taxes would only have to be increased 25% to cover the then $30 million shortfall to PMRS.

    No matter how you look at this it doesn't get pretty when we go down this road.

    But these are the discussions we have to start having because it is the will of a majority of Council that we begin these discussions in earnest.

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  27. MH

    No matter how you look at this it doesn't get pretty when we go down this road.

    More to the point of why I want to make sure nobody can make a hole this big before we figure how to fill the current hole.

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  28. Anonymous

    What's so wrong with LAZ paying for needed structural improvements? They aren't getting done otherwise.

    Under the proposed revenue-sharing agreement, the more LAZ makes, the more the City makes and can put towards the Fund.

    No wonder Harris is against this, it will shift dollars away from her personal block improvement program and towards the Pension Fund deficit.

    Reply
  29. BrianTH

    More to the point of why I want to make sure nobody can make a hole this big before we figure how to fill the current hole.

    It would be nice if you had more of a plan to that effect than “let's make this problem as bad as possible for the City and hope that forces the state to take mercy upon us!”

    In other words, you cut yourself seriously with a knife and are bleeding. Do you:

    (A) Bandage yourself with the nearby clean towel to slow the bleeding;

    (B) Refuse to bandage yourself until someone notices and sends you an ambulance; or

    (C) Refuse to bandage yourself and also use your knife to open up a major artery, on the theory that more blood will attract more attention.

    But hey–as you bleed out waiting for an ambulance that may never come, at least you'll have the comfort of knowing you still have your nice clean towel!

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  30. MH

    In other words, you cut yourself seriously with a knife and are bleeding. Do you:

    I didn't cut myself. Somebody cut me. I make sure they have dropped the knife before I worry about the bleeding.

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  31. Rex

    MH:

    I don't think BrianTH necessarily disagrees with you but I do think he is saying that in an emergency situation, the rules of triage apply:

    1. By all means, STOP the bleeding;

    2. Figure out what the hell went wrong and fix it;

    3. Make better choices.

    But numbers 2 & 3 won't really matter much if you exsanguinate first.

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  32. Rex

    BrianTH:

    I thought the City was “leasing”, not “selling” the assets. I think Council's majority has gotten away with this argument by framing this as a “sale” and not “we're keeping ownership of the asset, but 'letting' someone else use the asset and paying us for it.”

    LOL

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  33. MH

    The problem with Brian's analogy, aside from the fact analogies are usually pointless, is that he's arguing for “Pittsburgh” as a whole and thus ignoring the various groups, unions, individuals, potholes, and, crumbling bridges that make-up the city. People studying political and economic organizations often have to make such an assumption to render a topic compressible. But in this situation, that tactic hides far more than it illuminates because this issue clearly pits taxpayers against tax-getters (and will, before it is over, likely split public sector retirees and current/future public sector workers). Tax-getters have their own financial security as a first priority (understandably). Those who pay taxes, equally understandably, want to know what the bill is going to come to before they pay it. And, they realize they have no leverage to get such an accounting if the crisis is buried for another five years or so.

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  34. BrianTH

    I make sure they have dropped the knife before I worry about the bleeding.

    Again, that claim would make a lot more sense if you had any sort of real plan for achieving that.

    To adopt your metaphor, the person holding the knife is the state, and your plan is to actively help the state stab you harder and more often, in the hope that the sheer absurd inhumanity of it all finally gets them to stop stabbing.

    this issue clearly pits taxpayers against tax-getters

    Balderdash. Again, that might be true if you were somehow offering a way out to taxpayers. Instead, you are just offering them up to the knife-wielding maniac, promising that the worse they get stabbed, the more likely it is their attacker will show mercy.

    I thought the City was “leasing”, not “selling” the assets. I think Council's majority has gotten away with this argument by framing this as a “sale” and not “we're keeping ownership of the asset, but 'letting' someone else use the asset and paying us for it.”

    Fair point. On the other hand, some critics also claim the lease is just like a debt issue, which is incorrect because in a debt issue the City retains the revenue risk.

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  35. MH

    Again, that claim would make a lot more sense if you had any sort of real plan for achieving that.

    Letting the state takeover is Step 1 of a plan. Step 2 is letting the “Our officials suck so hard the state had to take the wheel” wave wash over the electorate. Step 3 is planning a fix with real numbers.

    Instead, you are just offering them up to the knife-wielding maniac, promising that the worse they get stabbed, the more likely it is their attacker will show mercy.
    You've been going on about that for quite some time. You don't explain why you expect that the state wouldn't “stab” us more if we do the lease. If they really are out to get us that badly, they could just say that pension funds have to be 65% funded or be taken over. They could take the $60 (or whatever) emergency services fee. They could arm McKeesport with a Letter of Marque and a fleet of tow trucks with cannon.

    Also, the harder people push against the state take over (say, filing lawsuits or shouting about deadlines that are always urgent yet always re-set when they get past), the more I want the state to takeover. Who tries that hard to keep the closet door shut if there isn't a corpse among the sweaters?

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  36. BrianTH

    Step 2 is letting the “Our officials suck so hard the state had to take the wheel” wave wash over the electorate. Step 3 is planning a fix with real numbers.

    And this is precisely what makes no sense.

    Any fix has to come from the state. So translating a bit, you have:

    Step 2: The City's stakeholders suffer and punish local office holders at the next election.

    Step 3: The state decides to fix problem.

    The precise problem with your logic is that Step 2 doesn't lead to Step 3. If anything, it leads away from Step 3, because local officials, and not state officials, are being blamed for everything in Step 2, so why should state officials do anything to help?

    You don't explain why you expect that the state wouldn't “stab” us more if we do the lease.

    Why would they do that?

    My consistent point is that the state's actions with respect to pension reform have nothing to do with the lease. Refusing to do the lease won't force them to enact pension reform, and I see no reason to believe doing the lease would stop them from enacting pension reform, or push them to make the pension laws worse for Pittsburgh.

    That is because pension reform isn't a Pittsburgh issue alone–it is a statewide issue. And as far as how Pittsburgh organizes its internal finances is concerned, I see no reason to believe the state particularly cares.

    So we should do the lease if it is a good idea, not because it is part of some masterful political gambit at the state level. There is no such gambit available, at least not judging from the options people have come up with.

    Who tries that hard to keep the closet door shut if there isn't a corpse among the sweaters?

    That is typical teabaggery. Who cares about silly numbers, policy arguments, and such? Let's talk about personalities! Let's talk about conspiracies! Good guys versus bad guys is all you need to know!

    Sheesh. Trivializing issues like that is how politicians can get away with avoiding hard choices.

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  37. MH

    I think I mention personalities far less than any frequent commentator on Pittsburgh politics. Also, with rare exceptions, I've rarely gone for ad hominem insults like teabaggery, you nut-licking goat.

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  38. Rex

    BrianTH:

    LOL, first of all…..

    I actually appreciated your knife-wielder analogy, even though the knife-wielder (the Legislature) would probably say the following:

    1. We gave you a 14-month moratorium in the pending stabbing incident just so you would figure out a way to avoid strolling your dumb-asses down “Jack-the-Ripper Way” after midnight on January 1, 2011.

    2. We (the Republicans in the state Senate who are diametrically opposed to raising taxes for any reason) gave Pittsburgh the authority to increase the very parking tax we previously forced (at the threat of a drive-by shooting) it to lower BOTH as an incentive to EITHER sell OR lease the parking assets AND to prevent the City from finding itself ON “Jack-the-Ripper Way” at 12:01 AM on 1 January 2011 WHILE providing yet more revenue to deal with that ridiculously underfunded pension the City keeps crying about AND that we won't tolerate any longer because, well, we the State have our own mega-billion dollar problems to resolve which will require the wholesale liquidation (not leasing) of OUR assets to diminish…

    3. Some of us here in Harrisburg actually won bets on whether you idiots in Pittsburgh could actually fix this before the stroke of midnight and made out like bandits, because, we knew that shit wouldn't happen and of course, this shit would fall back in our laps come 2011, which is of course, okay, because we, the Republican-in-its-entirety-controlled-State government have vast experience in reigning in belligerent Democrat-controlled urban municipalities and we have zero intention of letting a bunch of Democrats sink a pension system, responsible for the pensions of 901 other municipalities which would actually require us to write a check, so of course, we'll handle this, but you absolutely won't like it.

    4. But, if you idiots think we care MORE about YOUR problems than we do about not IMMEDIATELY breaking the promise to the state's electorate NOT to raise taxes to solve any problem the state's drug problem must be worse than even WE thought because that crack YOU'RE smoking must be the BOMB!!!!!!

    Hell, we have two OTHER pensions (not PMRS, which was fine except for having to adopt YOU) that are billions of dollars underfunded and we just kicked THAT can 15 years down the road, so that should be a CLEAR indication of our interest in pension reform for ANYONE.

    Having said that, the analogy I think may be more appropriate for Pittsburgh is having one toe on your foot inflicted with gangreen, and the doctor telling you, “If I don't take this toe, sooner or later, much sooner I think, we'll have to take the whole foot, calf, thigh, you get it, I'll eventually have to amputate to the pelvic bone” and the patient saying, “that's okay, doctor, I'll just wait”

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  39. MH

    That's probably a better analogy because UPMC makes more money from that type of stuff than a they do from a stabbing and UPMC making money is a given.

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  40. Bram Reichbaum

    Wow, so much to enjoy.

    MH wrote, “Letting the state takeover is Step 1 of a plan. Step 2 is letting the “Our officials suck so hard the state had to take the wheel” wave wash over the electorate. Step 3 is planning a fix with real numbers.

    I know history gives us little reason to feel wildly optimistic about Pittsburgh's leadership (though I do think its slowly coming along), but are you really suggesting the state legislature — the PENNSYLVANIA state legislature — is likely to be superior? Who do you think teaches us how to dispose of bodies? I can understand believing PMRS's fund management to be more professional in as much as that matters on its own, but in terms of crafting structural solutions and exposing malfeasance, I seem to recall reading something somewhere about PA government that leads me to believe that isn't going to work.

    If your step 2, “Drive home the suck and let it wash over the electorate”, was likely to work, Act 47 would have accomplished it by now because that was pretty embarrassing. Of course we could try ceding more control over to the state, and then “consolidate” (dissolve) into Allegheny County, opting for no self-governance to speak of. THAT will motivate reform.

    Alright, enough unnecessary sarcasm. But I'll leave you with this — don't you imagine that Corbett, Smith & Scarnatti have their own informal network of lawyers and financiers lusting after the opportunity to “transact” Pittsburgh's assets? Do you think they will have to worry about endlessly negotiating rates, operations and durations with verkakta city councilors and community groups?

    Reply
  41. Rex

    “don't you imagine that Corbett, Smith & Scarnatti have their own informal network of lawyers and financiers lusting after the opportunity to “transact” Pittsburgh's assets?”

    Bram –

    I'm convinced that if the state moves to solve this problem for us it will involve the subjugation or disposal of our assets, but if we examine your statement, my concerns shift from park-ing to park-s.

    Riverview Park straddles Woods Run, Schenley Park straddles Four Mile Run, Frick Park straddles Nine Mile Run and Highland Park straddles Heths Run.

    Hundreds of acres of land with ready access to wastewater removal devices (sewage pipes), and the Governor-elect's network seems to include, instead of financiers seeking to extract profits from our assets, to extract the natural resources that lie beneath them. Didn't the Governor-elect's transition team announce that the state's next economic development czar was a “coal baron” and didn't that same Governor-elect pledge to make the state more accessible to natural gas extractors?

    Were I of that mind, I might be more likely to sell the City's parks and perhaps the wastewater authority that drains not only the City but the wastewater of 82 other municipalities in Allegheny County than some run-down parking lots and some outdated meters.

    Since it is exceeding likely that the Legislature will likely pre-empt all municipal safeguards to shale gas extraction, why not couple that with the water resources necessary both to facilitate extraction and subsequent disposal of the wastewater?

    And since you mentioned America's largest, most expensive full-time state legislature, didn't I read somewhere that a grand jury described it as utterly incapable of change, evolution, growth or reform? Not trying to echo those sentiments, as I disagree but if we're waiting on an organization with $5 billion in debt of its own and 11.7 million other residents to think of who just kicked billions upon billions of its' own pension obligations 15 years down the road, why would anyone take from that series of actions that the Legislature has any plans on addressing the situation anytime soon?

    BrianTH is correct — we need to utilize our parking assets in a manner which generates the most cash, both now and in the years to come in a way that best resembles sound policy and solves as many problems as is possible.

    Reply
  42. MH

    the PENNSYLVANIA state legislature

    Only in comparison. Unless they actual do make it easier or cheaper to buy liquor.

    “Drive home the suck and let it wash over the electorate”, was likely to work, Act 47 would have accomplished it…

    It was hardly a cure all, but the Act 47 suck did drive out Murphy. Didn't help much in the end, but life happens outside of voting. It also drove out Udin. The replacement didn't exactly help good government, but she made the newspaper more interesting for a while.

    Reply
  43. MH

    BrianTH is correct — we need to utilize our parking assets in a manner which generates the most cash

    As long as the keep the 61c half-assed running, I agree with that.

    Reply
  44. Bram Reichbaum

    Whoa, Rex — I can't cosign the notion that Corbett's fixing to snatch Frick Park and frack it. Yes our water infrastructure might be on the table, but man. Serious points for creativity.

    Reply
  45. William the Good

    Guys, guys, you just don't get it. Bram is a bad guy. And Luke is a bad guy. And Lazowski is a bad guy. We've got to listen to the good guys. Because they're protecting us from the bad guys. It's as simple as that: white hats, John Wayne, apple pie (organic, of course), versus mean old men in repp ties chomping cigars with a boot on the face of the people. Forever.

    To see more about the good guys philosophy, see our official statement, here:

    Reply
  46. gradstudent1

    Idk, I think the bad guys vs. good guys thing is just good political messaging. I don't think you should begrudge someone for playing smart politics. Here is what i don't get, if there is state takeover, and after state take over, the city finds away to inject a major cash infusion into the pension fund (lets say PMRS oks the original lease deal, or momentum for such a deal builds, there are 5 years until a significant jump in PMRS contributions are required, if i remember right) why is that worse than doing the lease deal now, besides the fact that the money can grow by market rates. I just dont see how a >50% under PMRS is a worse option than a >50% not under PMRS, or under voluntary PMRS supervision.

    Reply
  47. BrianTH

    I'll just say I am glad I took a break from the back-and-forth in this thread, because it got a lot more entertaining without me.

    Reply

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