Wednesday, December 5, 2007



Tom Baron, owner and chief executive of Big Burrito Group, which owns Mad Mex and other restaurants in Pittsburgh, said the tax will eat into the livelihood of many waiters and bartenders.

"Listen to your constituents," he said, calling the tax a quick fix to the county's long-term fiscal woes. "This is a poison Band-Aid on a bleeding artery." (P-G, Karamagi Rujumba)

I disagree: "funding transit" is a rhetorical device selected solely to institute a regressive tax with progressive justification. (Burgh Report, The Burgher; with C-P, Chris Young)

Thoughts: Dan Onorato must demonstrate a palpable improvement in the region's mass transit relatively quickly, or he will have earned far more local enmity during his tenure than affection.



The legislation bars the hiring of police candidates with histories of violence and the promotion of those subject to active domestic abuse criminal cases or protection-from-abuse orders, known as PFAs. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Marsha Hinton, chairwoman of the Citizens Police Review Board, said the ordinance has room for improvement. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

Thoughts: We're sorry, but there will eventually be more acts to this drama. The tension will be over whether to pursue reforms deeper into the police department, or broader across other areas of government.



This is a critical vote, not just a symbolic one, because it triggers one method of an end to state oversight. Although it may sound pleasant and a move in the right direction, be careful what you wish for. Instead of asking the state to end Act 47, we should be asking them to help us fix our structural problems and wait until these conditions have been met. (Reform Pgh Now, Bill Peduto, the lone no vote on Council)

"It's worth having ... the state determine whether or not we are still an Act 47 city. If we are, OK, but what do we need to get out?" Ravenstahl said. He declined to take a position on whether the city deserves to emerge from state oversight.

"The secretary will respond in writing in the near future," said Kevin Ortiz, a DCED spokesman. "The plan is to hold public hearings in which the secretary will personally preside and solicit and obtain testimony on where things stand." (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

Thoughts: These public hearings will be interesting, at any rate.



Each 2008 graduate with a grade-point average of 2.0 or better will be eligible for up to $20,000 in college aid over four years. Because Mr. Roosevelt wants the program to drive schools and students to higher performance, he supports tougher requirements and higher levels of aid for following classes. [snip]

[/snip] UPMC's commitment is a political boon for Mr. Ravenstahl and Mr. Roosevelt, coming as the latter faces criticism for his proposal to close the popular Pittsburgh Schenley High School in Oakland in a bid to remake district high schools. Repeatedly yesterday, Mr. Roosevelt called big changes in thinking a prerequisite for overhauling the troubled school district.

The announcement also comes as UPMC, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield and other nonprofit organizations are under fire for accumulating large fund balances without paying what critics consider adequate taxes to the city, Allegheny County and the school district. (P-G, Joe Smydo)

Thoughts: Absolutely. This provides Mayor Ravenstahl, Superintendent Roosevelt and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center all with massive degrees of political momentum for pursuing their respective agendas. Keep a low profile and stock up on provisions.



  1. A regressive tax by definition, yes.

    But as for the restaurant and bar owners: so full of crap. We're going to see a repeat of the parking tax fallout. That is to say, does anyone actually believe they won't benefit in the long run? People's drinking habits won't change one teensy tiny bit. And that $3.50 beer of yours ain't going up to $3.85 (the precise amount of the increase). It'll go up to $4.00.

    Badda bing, badda boom, profit.

  2. "It's worth having ... the state determine whether or not we are still an Act 47 city. If we are, OK, but what do we need to get out?"

    Worthy sentiments, to be sure, but what does Ravenstahl think the Act 47 team's job is? They've provided periodic assessments (we're still in long-term debt) and still are working to find ways to get us out of it. If we didn't need to be an Act 47 city anymore, don't you think we would have heard about it by now?

  3. The only reason the parking tax didn't hurt parking numbers is because:

    1) All rates went up in all lots. If people had a choice of parking in Lot A for $3.50 or Lot B next door for $4.00 .... where are they going to park? That is the non-BS point of the tavern owners on the border of Allegheny and other counties.

    2)Most downtown parking is for a captive audience. People who drive and work Downtown must park Downtown. Taverns have no such captive customers.

    Aside from the above, the tax is patently unfair. Why should one segment be singled out to pay for something that benefits all? What's next, forcing florists to pay for our needed sewer upgrades?

  4. Char,

    It's valid in theory. But in practice? Let me ask you (if you're a bargoer): Do you have a favorite watering hole? Would you stop going there to save a few bucks? I don't think many people who are "bar regulars" owuld answer yes to that question. If you're not a bar regular, I seriously doubt you're going to be the type to think, "Oh, I'll save 35 cents over yonder."

    Further, there's a huge percentage of people who won't know -- and even more who have plenty of money, and even more who are immune to things getting more expensive and just don't care.

    I doubt we'll see much follow-up, but I'll betcha revenues don't go down.

    We heard the same "singled out" stuff about the smoking ban -- repeatedly shown in city after city to be revenue-neutral or in fact good for business. (even though I grudgingly agree that not banning smoking everywhere is wrong...)

  5. Dan,

    I do have a favorite wine. And if I peruse the wine menu and find my favorite(s) seem a bit pricey at the time ... I look to see what other wine might be good enough for a more reasonable price. If they all look like I'm being gouged, there's many a time I've decided to forego the wine and just drink water with my meal instead.

    Consciously or subconsciously consumers make these same choices each time they sit down to eat/drink. The bottom line to the restaurant is that, if they are lucky their gross revenues will not go down, but their expenses will go up and their net profits will go down.

    Check with your restaurant friends. They'll tell you they operate on very slim margins. Most of their profit, in fact, comes from the alcohol, not the food.

    But all that aside ..... how is it at all fair or equitable to saddle one particular industry, no matter which one it is, with the bailout of the Port Authority? The Port Authority which is supposedly a public benefit to everyone.

    Oh .... Now we hear that most of the needed money is not for Port Authority but in fact for a generic county budget shortfall. Well, that's an even worse reason to hand one particular segment the bill.

    This is just wrong. Wrong and bad.

  6. I'm sort of interested in how the blogosphere was silent on the drink tax lo these many many months -- then as soon as it got passed, most of us are saying it's the worst thing ever.

  7. Actually, I don't know that the drink tax/rental car fee is the worst thing ever. I will say that I am a bit surprised no one is whining about the real culprit, the state legislature. As I remember, they passed legislation authorizing the county to use a drink tax/rental car fee. The whole state knows (or should know) by now that Onorato is in a holding pattern on the county's property taxes. Onorato could (probably) raise them, the honorable R. Stanton Wettick non-withstanding, but he is apparently trying to force the hand of the great mountain of inertia we call a state legislature. Wettick has declared our property tax system unconstitutional (possibly a couple of times) and apparently the county has appealed the latest decision. Ideally, however, the State would agree to play the bad guy and set up a state wide property tax system. Since the great vote out after the pay raise scandal, however, not a lot of state legislators are willing to stick their necks out.

    So the drink tax was the state legislature’s gift to the county, a way of raising more money to obtain the additional money the State is bestowing on Port Authority by virtue of tolls on I-80 (has a trucker yet run down Rendell to protest those tolls, or have the Feds yet scuttled those toll booths, simply because they can?). And in the three card Monte game that is county revenue/expenditures, the drink tax will take over, on paper, as all the transit funding, while the newly freed up property tax revenues (presumably about thirty million) will go to plug some of the county budget shortfall. Not all of it, Onorato is apparently committed to 200 layoffs, because it pleases him (“Yes, lay off that one there, the saucy one”).

  8. Maybe the blogosphere was too blogged down these last few months with Luke antics. "Myself", I winced each time I read the paper finding one golf gaffe after another. I seriously wished I could write about something else for a change. But I could not let the Frat Boy off the hook.

  9. Char--

    I'm not saying it's a great tax. Just a choice between two evils.

    You're right, the cost of goods is given due consideration. But I just feel this tax won't be a behavior-changing one. History's shown it's tough to price consumers out of the alcohol, cigarette, gasoline, and porn markets!

    Saddling one market with PAT support: true, an age-old issue. I'd assume you feel similarly about cigarette taxes?
    There is also a bit of a "sin tax" element here, which I don't have a particular problem with even though I drink.

    And I fully admit still harbor a good deal of unpleasant feelings toward the region's restaurants for their opposition to progressive smoking provisions.

  10. Dan: "History's shown it's tough to price consumers out of the alcohol, cigarette, gasoline, and porn markets!"

    Silvio Dante: "History shows there are two recession proof industries. Certain aspects of the entertainment business ... and our thing."

  11. The tavern industry has historically been able to hide profits in a cash intensive business...expect the tavern owners to figger out how to do it again.