Mayor Luke Ravenstahl used his Budget Address to press the case for unity, optimism, unity, family-style governance and unity -- while frequently invoking the election of Barack Hussein and the birth of Cooper Luke. (Video: P-G, Nate Guidry)
"IF WE ARE TO CONTINUE OUR SUCCESS AND OVERCOME FUTURE OBSTACLES," said Ravenstahl, "WE MUST UNITE AS ONLY A FAMILY CAN. TOGETHER, WE ARE ONE PITTSBURGH FAMILY."
"LIKE A PITTSBURGH FAMILY," the Mayor continued, "WE WILL PUT PERSONALITIES ASIDE TO FIGHT FOR THE FUTURE OF A CITY THAT DEPENDS ON US. LIKE A PITTSBURGH FAMILY, WE WILL WORK TOGETHER IN THE SPIRIT OF THIS HISTORIC ELECTION, TO RESIST THE URGE TO SAY 'NO WE CAN'T' AND INSTEAD SAY "YES WE CAN."
After touting past accomplishments such as improving some community and recreational facilities, demolishing vacant buildings, developing green spaces in their places and reducing crime to "40-year historic lows", the Mayor highlighted initiatives for 2009 such as the relocation of a South Side police station, the installation of video surveillance cameras, a two-percent slimming of the city workforce by attrition, and the expectation of continued street paving and snow removal services.
"OUR PROGRESS IN RESTORING PITTSBURGH'S FINANCIAL HEALTH HAS NOT GONE UNNOTICED," Ravenstahl said, in what is sure to become a familiar refrain as he approaches the end of Mayor O'Connor's first term as chief executive. "FOR THE THIRD TIME IN MY TWO YEARS IN OFFICE, THE CITY'S BOND RATING HAS BEEN UPGRADED BY NATIONAL RATING AGENCIES."
On the flip side, the Mayor says that the city budget will be "balanced" for the third consecutive year. The distinction between a merely balanced budget and our two consecutive structurally balanced budgets of years past is as yet unclear.
Council's finance chair, Bill Peduto, urged Ravenstahl to develop a five-year financial recovery plan with state overseers that puts Pittsburgh on stable financial ground permanently.
"We cannot operate a city government the way that we have in the past and expect anything less than budgets that continue to go into the red," Peduto said. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)
There does seem to be general agreement that budgets will return to the negative in several years as pension obligations come due -- but there is as yet no consensus on whether, when, how and to what degree anybody should concern themselves with that. As such, it's hard to make it an issue.
Mr. Ravenstahl had planned to put $54 million in the fund next year, or 15 percent more than the state-mandated minimum. Now he's scaled that back to $49.7 million, or slightly more than 5 percent more than the minimum.
"I wish they would have stuck with the 15 percent commitment," said Mr. Lamb. (P-G, Rich Lord)
Elsewhere, Our Controller speaks of bank balances "getting crushed," and of our not being out of the woods quite yet.
Although the mayor's budget address, coming as it does after the oversight boards approve his budget proposal, lends his proposal the air of finality, that blueprint must still be ratified by City Council. It will be interesting to see if anyone finds room in this for improvement.