Friday, November 30, 2007

Friday: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday

The Budget and Finance Committee approved Dan Onorato's drink and car rental taxes, along with the rest of the budget (P-G, Karamagi Rujumba). The legislation will now proceed to a full vote in County Council.

The committee vote went along straight party lines.

Yesterday, Councilman Dave Fawcett, R-Oakmont, presented his colleagues with an alternative taxing proposal, which he plans to introduce to council on Tuesday.

His plan would balance the budget by reducing the proposed drink tax to 5 percent, and raising the county real estate tax by $29 for every $100,000 of assessed value on property.

The county's tax rate, currently 4.69 mills, would increase by 0.29 mills to 4.98 mills.

Why must the Comet once again side with a liberal Republican?

That's what Fawcett appears to be. Sales taxes are regressive, property taxes are progressive.

Hello? Our feelings on this have not changed.


Unfortunately, that's just a sideshow to the real question of where we stand with the Mass Transit these taxes are supposed to fix. Just not completely.

Or not at all. Earlier, as the P-G's Karamagi Rujumba reported:

Mr. Onorato has said he wants Local 85 to accept concessions similar to those that the authority's management and nonunion employees agreed to in March. They include a wage freeze, higher contributions for health insurance, and elimination of early retirement and retiree health insurance.

Without the concessions, Mr. Onorato has said he will withhold the county's $30 million subsidy, even if his two new taxes -- 10 percent on poured alcoholic drinks and $2-a-day on car rentals -- to fund mass transit are approved.

After a brief public spat, Local 85 President McMahon and County Executive Onorato agreed that they "will not be negotiating in the media" (we should make Rujumba, like, Sea Hawk). Count this as a tactical win for Onorato -- he landed the last punch.

Besides, if it's a media war, it's not going to be a fair fight between those two.

COMET FORECAST: Expect labor concessions and a general sensible reorganization of the Port Authority to proceed just barely well enough that Onorato can plausibly claim that he took positive steps, held the ship together, and moved the County in the right direction. Everything one should expect of a good placeholder Chief Executive.

Prove us wrong.

Meanwhile, City Council is all, "Let's get out of Act 47!" and Bill Peduto is all, "I'm the only one voting against you guys again!" (P-G, Mark Belko)

Yes, even Shieldsy: scrambling to get out from under state oversight.

The Comet comes down with Peduto on this, for very much the reasons he describes on his blog. We are also very much in accord with the sentiment expressed by the Angry Drunken Bureaucrat, and when the ADB and Pedoots are in accord, it is cause for some confidence.

Not to mention, it's common sense. Financially, we are not out of the woods yet -- not until after 2010, not with this pensions fiasco still looming.

It would be interesting to see whether or not Luke would spend like a drunken sailor were he allowed -- he might just not! -- but one thing we can be sure of is that City Council would seek to spend like drunken sailors. Luke would probably sign off on too much of it on the general principle that he could turn around and blame Council.

Besides, he's got some votes that need buying, too.

Anyway. WE COULD BE WRONG ABOUT ALL THIS. Maybe the whole pensions fiasco is a bevy of sound and fury signifying nothing -- maybe the City of Pittsburgh would be better off in unfettered control of its own destiny.

(The Comet was recently wrong, for example, in our take on the University of Pittsburgh report on racial demographics and economic disparities. Recent primary research indicates not that Pittsburgh is monstrously out-of-proportion with the rest of American cities, but rather that our own African-American populations are suffering deaths of a thousand cuts. Our response to For Real will be forthcoming.)

COMET FORECAST: Does this recent Act 47 posturing even matter? Isn't this all the Great Parking Tax Showdown all over again?


This is not the Schenley post. This is a sidebar to that issue.

There is a meme going around that the School District has failed to release information on its ambitious (radical?) high school reform agenda to the general public. That appears to be a Bad Message.

We have learned through Patrick Dowd -- outgoing member of the School Board and incoming new City Councilman, representing District 7 Lawrenceville / Highland Park, during a flurry of communications as a temporarily private citizen -- that the School District under the Board and Superintendent have indeed been putting this stuff out there.

That's how you know it.

Of course, until recently it required not only that one be consumed with School District politics, but that one also be Internet savvy, highly literate, and individually relentless.

The news media does cover the School District, but sometimes it misses the forest for the trees.

Here is a collection of literature which should help you understand the intended regime of high school reform, care of PDowdy.

Superintendent Mark Roosevelt's contract

(This contract was not boilerplate, but rather represented an innovation. We wonder a little about Section VII: Performance Priorities, Part B: Future Development of Priorities, and also about Section VIII: Annual Evaluation, Part A: Confidentiality, both of which can be found at the bottom of Page 10. But we only worry a little.)

Year One Accomplishments

Year Two Progress Report

Year Two Accomplishments (link MIA: contact Lisa Fischetti 622-3603)

Year Three Performance Priorities

Board Appoints Chief to Lead New Office of High School Reform (link MIA: contact Ebony R. Pugh 412-622-3616)

High School Reform is also one of the five priorities for Year 3 of the Superintendent’s contract. According to the Superintendent’s Year 3 priorities approved by the Board this evening, the Superintendent must present to the Board by May, 2008 a comprehensive plan for Career and Technical education, open by September, 2008 the Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy, establish a plan for opening at least one “university partnership” high school in September, 2009 and secure funding for Year One of the Pittsburgh Promise scholarships.

You would think Mr. Derrik R. Lopez, J.D., the new Chief of High School Reform, would be the man to talk to, that is, if you want to know the deal with comprehensive city-wide high school reform. HINT: Dig deeper than Excellence for All.

In addition to the appointment of Mr. Lopez as the Chief of High School reform the Board appointed Ms. Julia A. Stewart, Ph.D., Executive Director of Career and Technical Education. Ms. Stewart will oversee, manage and lead the development, design and implementation of a coordinated system for the District’s career and technical education program.

And perhaps her also.

This is all leaving aside the issue of whether or not the full truth about asbestos abatement and remediation procedures at Schenley -- safety-wise and cost-wise -- have ever been released to the public, and if so, if it was released in a timely fashion, and even then, if enough bids for the work have been secured. The Comet is still in ambivalence over this, but either way we believe the message of opaqueness is a distraction from the reform debate, until someone really catches them with their hand on top of the cookie jar.


  1. Sales taxes are regressive, property taxes are progressive.

    Agreed. The problem is that they are also shockingly inaccurate and too often arbitrary, across all income levels.

    That said, I'll also agree that Fawcett's proposal seems pretty sensible. Fawcett is a kool kat.... he like-um the environment.

  2. In the school matter -- the value of the IB program teaches: "Question the question."

    Roosevelt's reform is more about "DEFORMING" than reform.

  3. Hahahahahaha. When I saw your name, I panicked. Thanks, Jen.

  4. Fawcett's "compromise" indeed looks good, but the drink/car rental taxes are the choices we've been given, because the rest of the Republicans are not about to raise property taxes, either -- they want to keep taxes low generally, and could not care less about mass transit.

  5. No need for panic. I think you are the only one reporting the full story on the Schenley/School reform issue. Keep it up! Eventually the MSM will catch up!