Thursday, February 12, 2009

Thursday: Crazy News, Man.

Senator Fumo admits that his public staff performed campaign work, but does not admit to any wrongdoing.

"It's also a violation to spit on the sidewalk, but I don't know that it's enforced," said Mr. Fumo, who gave terse and often feisty answers to Assistant U.S. Attorney John J. Pease during the first day of what is expected to be a long and blistering cross-examination in Mr. Fumo's federal corruption trial. (P-G/PI, Lounsberry & McCoy)

Together with yesterday's depiction of the Fumo household as a state-funded laboratory and think tank, what we see developing is a lot like the case against Cyril Wecht -- only seemingly at least a little more serious, and without Fumo playing his cards nearly as well.


Patrick Dowd is needling Mayor Ravenstahl in regards to The Sign -- though probably not in any way that you'd like him to.

Dowd's letter reiterates much of the legal history of this case, in which the city solicitor's office argued from both sides of its mouth. On the one hand, George Specter opined, the process Lamar used to obtain an electronic billboard Downtown was of dubious legality and should be ceased. On the other hand, Specter also noted that the process had been used previously -- and that Lamar had a good-faith reason to believe it would be followed again. (City Paper Slag Heap)

One of these days, Pat Dowd, the folks at the Pennsylvanian, George Specter (or somebody other than Specter), Lamar Advertising, Pat Ford and a judge are going to get together in a room and sort this all out. In all probability, it's going to be surprisingly peaceable.

Pat Ford was hired for his passion, his determination, his Reaganesque commitment to the free market and its attendant faith in a certain kind of Providence. He obviously had a tragic weakness for the symbolic trappings of power -- but by no accounts yet did he ever accumulate or procure for himself anything of significant substance. That is, until his handsome severance package -- but that only once he was cut loose.


As you know, today at noon is the time for County Executive Dan Onorato's second Cyber Town Hall. During the first one, Onorato defended the equity of his "base-year" property tax schemata by reference to the fact that almost all property values rise from year to year -- so he is really keeping everyone's property taxes low.

Pgh Is A City wrecked that argument:

Let's get something straight. Housing prices (in a normal society) increase. It's perfectly natural and expected that prices will increase. In fact, if housing prices didn't increase we'd be in trouble. HOWEVER, the increased value of an assessed house SHOULD NOT mean increased property tax. When values go up, the county or the city or whomever, SHOULD adjust the mill rate DOWN so that the net result for them is about the same. Is there a law against that in Harrisburg???

By combining regular property value reassessments with corresponding millage rate decreases, the working class and those in struggling communities benefit from generalized increased prosperity. A rising tide would then lift all boats.

There can be no doubt that reassessments entail serious work and significant costs. However, I do not see why reassessments can not be scheduled for say every other odd-numbered year, and millage recalculations can not go into effect every other even-numbered year, resulting in a manageable four-year cycle. And/or sectional rotation can be employed, with manageable-sized portions of the county being updated continually on a pinwheel. Either way, this would at least be an effort to confront what are clear challenges, rather than bury them in a time capsule or pass the buck until someone else fashions a solution.

So we hope Onorato takes another stab at that particular question -- but the rest of the show was great. We're looking forward to this next webisode. UPDATE: It was awesome. I got two questions in. I'd give the overall performance a B+, we'll post a breakdown eventually.


  1. The way to deal with the increase in value to real property is with "assessment buffering."

    The way to deal with the harsh penalty (higher taxes) for fix-ups of property (home improvements) and to counter the opposite (lower taxes for letting your house decay, or worse, be demolished) is the "land value tax."

    The way to handle the constant need of re-assessments is to only examine the land -- with a land value tax. Land is impossible to hide.

  2. Well, I think I voiced some misgivings about assessments on Pgh is a city, but here I will just say that we are all (literally the whole State, I believe) waiting for the State Supreme's verdict on Allegheny County's case. I suppose the Supremes might throw the matter to the legislature, which might delay a resolution more.

  3. Ed - I don't think we necessarily have to be waiting on any verdict. If any leaders of any county can manage to fashion something that improves long-term sustainability and passes legal muster, that could be used as a model for the Legislature, for the Judiciary, or simply for other counties. If our own county exec aspires to statewise leadership, he might stand to gain from taking the lead.

    Mark - buildings are wealth. Wealth can be stored in building-form; welath can appreciate in building form. I think we have no choice but to tax wealth to a reasonable degree just about wherever it accrues.

  4. Wealth in a building is not linked to the rest of the wealth in the community such as wealth in the land.

    Land is finite and building value is not.

    We want to encourage investments in the local area. That brings value to the others.

    Taxing building wealth is not progressive nor productive.

  5. Rauterkus - "Wealth in a building is not linked to the rest of the wealth in the community such as wealth in the land."

    Disagree entirely. I build a house made of gold and chocolate, that doesn't effect the property values of my immediate neighbors? What if I build one made out of damp plywood and manure, and only build three walls before fleeing to Brazil?

    "Land is finite and building value is not."


    "We want to encourage investments in the local area. That brings value to the others."

    So what's your point? Taxes are not kryptonite for all investments. Particularly the sound ones.

    "Taxing building wealth is not progressive nor productive."

    Massive disagree. Irreconcilable differences. Let's talk about Vincent Fumo.

  6. After today's PG article on Fumo, is there any doubt why politicians are held in such low esteem. This man should go to prison and his $500,000 picnic boat should be seized. This is PA politics with Fast Eddie and his cronies.

  7. I wonder if the whole legislative pay-raise thing wasn't triggered by Fumo's need to pay his butler.

  8. Today in regards to Vincent Fumo:

    [Fumo] acknowledged that he didn't want to answer the question back then "in a way that let people know I got perks and gifts."


    But the sharpest jousting took place in connection with the 2004 WHYY-FM radio interview during which Mr. Fumo said he didn't get "any benefit" from Citizens' Alliance.

    Confronted with an FBI analysis of store receipts and credit-card bills, Mr. Fumo has now acknowledged that he did in fact get a slew of goods from the nonprofit.

    Mr. Pease bored in on Mr. Fumo's answers in the radio interview.

    "You didn't want anybody to know," the prosecutor challenged him.

    "I didn't want people outside Citizens' knowing anything except what they had to know," replied Mr. Fumo.