Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The DeSantis Plan for Financial Recovery

Setting aside the public safety plan, this one is the Big Kahuna.

This one is supposed to explain how Pittsburgh will save oodles of cash, without letting garbage pile up on the streets.

Let's take a look at some provisions, and make some snap judgements.

DeSantis Will Reduce Spending by 1% Annually.

“I want to instill a culture of efficiency and lead a new age of innovation in City government. Some will say it cannot be done, but any Mayor who cannot streamline 1% of fat annually out of a city budget should not be your Mayor,” added DeSantis.

That all depends on what is fat, what is gristle, what is savory tenderloin, and what is bone. Will we be finding out below?

DeSantis will seek to amend the Home Rule Charter to impose a cap on the growth of spending. Under this cap City spending could not grow more than the annual increase in the Consumer Price Index for the Pittsburgh region, plus/minus the percentage change in Pittsburgh’s population.

We love the seriousness. We love the urgency. But even still, amending the Home Rule Charter seems a little dramatic. Why not just promise to submit budgets that are under that threshold?

Mr. DeSantis also pledges no layoffs while he is Mayor. However, he does recognize that 21st Century City government does need to get leaner, and he will reduce the size of City government through attrition. He will implement an across-the-board hiring freeze for all non-essential City personnel.

You would think this would set some city employees' minds at ease.

In addition, Mr. DeSantis will aggressively tackle excessive workers’ compensation and overtime costs ... In his first two years as Mayor, Mr. DeSantis will take action to reduce these expenses in half, saving the City more than $23 million a year. This is the same amount of money that DeSantis previously pledged to add to the City’s pension plans.

That's your issue, gents.

This would offset the money DeSantis wants to funnel from the nonprofits and the casino, directly to our pension debt -- which Ravenstahl maintains will jeopardize city services. Now DeSantis would plug this gap through reducing certain employee benefits.

We knew we weren't going to get out of this with some pain. From everything we've heard it's workers comp and overtime that really is the culprit when it comes to the city budget.

Implicit in this is that he intends to take on ... dun dun DUN ... the UNIONS. Pittsburgh's public-sector unions are said to be the toughest and most demanding in the country. As much as it pains the Comet to sound anti-labor chords -- well, it's not anti-labor at all. It's pro-City.

“It makes absolutely no sense for the City and County to both maintain their own Law, Information Technology, Parks and many other Departments,” said DeSantis.

The consolidation of these, and many other, duplicate functions would conservatively save the City taxpayers $10 million a year, when fully carried out.

No objection. No objections from most people, actually. We're not talking about dissolving Pittsburgh, here. Turf wars and special relationships be damned.

The DeSantis administration will immediately begin to auction all properties that are not being used to provide government services.

Good luck finding buyers for most of them. We're all for getting the city out of the business of real-estate speculation -- and kudos to DeSantis for suggesting it -- but we imagine there is a more deliberate manner of easing out of the market than this.

New City employees will be placed in a defined contribution plan.

This is another biggie. In other words, although nothing will change for current employees, new employees won't get health care and pension benefits without kicking back something from their payroll (like many of us).

Again -- how do you feel about sacrifice? It seems like DeSantis is rounding down all the rough edges he possibly can -- but he is serious about finding savings and scaling back.

Which is interesting. In national politics, it is George W. Bush that insists we can meet our national challenges without calling upon us to make any sacrifices. Without commenting on the DeSantis Plan, what "tough choices" has Ravenstahl made to steel us for the coming budget crunch?

Beginning in the fourth year of his plan, Mr. DeSantis plans to reduce the real estate, wage and payroll preparation taxes to attract new residents and businesses.

Hahahahaha. Even we don't think we're gonna get four years out of this bloke.

Our Knee-Jerk Recommendation: Let's take the savings, accept the sacrifice, enjoy two years of tough love from DeSantis, and then see where we stand.


  1. Bram,

    No love for DeSantis's economic development plan? I think that's the best out of his three plans thus far - without economic growth we can forget about getting out of the hole and being able eventually lowering taxes.


  2. It strikes me all of a sudden, no good for the County and the City to share a law department. That's bonkers crackerjack. I've just got to correct myself there.