Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Tuesday: King of the Who?

Pittsburgh's tax crusade is being met with predictable resistance from one of our daily papers.

Those living outside Pittsburgh's borders but working within them now pay $52 annually. If Democrats who drove the city into state receivership -- the government equivalent of Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization -- can't get their act together, the Act 47 "recovery" team reportedly would consider raising the annual tax to $145.

If that molestation isn't bad enough... (Trib, Edit Board)

A tax increase of roughly $7.75 a month -- levied on neighbors who choose to work in the City and no doubt spend a good deal of their leisure time consuming its services -- is enough to prompt our friends at the Trib to reach for their rape whistles.

This is to say nothing of their sudden rancor against delicately tapping our burgeoning non-profit sector for the first time -- an option for which I could have sworn they had sounded moderate approval in the past.

More troubling, however, is that even talking about such nonsense once again exposes the fundamental lack of economics smarts by Pittsburgh's financial overseers. Raising taxes in recessionary times is like whooping it up over that light at the end of the tunnel but fully knowing it is an oncoming train. (ibid)

Ah, that old chestnut -- I always tire of it. One day somebody must show me, in a textbook or a history book, on a chalkboard or in a laboratory, how it came to be maintained by such a motley handful that raising any form of tax under any conceivable set of circumstances during a recession -- even one that is nicely receding -- always leads to misery and woe. Because I do not believe such evidence exists anywhere.

Sometimes a city needs liquidity in order to ward off an existential threat. Sometimes constituencies are identified which are not contributing a genuinely equitable or sustainable share compared to what they reap in return. Sometimes a region has to pull together.

The mayor's plan to keep the parking tax at 37.5 percent instead of making a state-mandated cut to 35 percent would keep some $3 million a year in the city's hands. A hike in the $52 tax on those who work in the city, to $145, could bring in $23 million -- two-thirds from suburbanites, the rest from city residents. And extending the 0.55 percent tax on business payrolls to tax-exempts like hospitals and universities could net $16.5 million.

Even if new revenue ends up being $30 million, that "allows us to obviously be sustainable on the operating side of things for years to come, but also allows us to begin to deal with pension [shortfalls] and debt, something that we've talked about for a long time but don't have the resources locally to make any significant impact," Mr. Ravenstahl said. (P-G, Rich Lord)


A) Good plan, or should I say good opening volley.

B) I feel like a bit of this was a temporary relapse into electoral-season braggadocio. A month ago there was every practical reason for the Mayor to speak always in terms of the absoluteness of Pittsburgh's near-certain checkmate over the forces of financial entropy -- but this is an entirely different situation.

If the Council's Finance Chair is to be trusted, it sounds like we really need $80 million annually to be sustainable. If the blogosphere's financial guru is to be trusted, even that may be optimistic. Either way, these taxes would not get us halfway to that position of genuine security.

What I'm saying is, sounding desperately in peril can only help Pittsburgh in this situation. If we continue broadcasting that "$30 million will totally get us out of the woods," folks will be inclined to meet us only halfway or less. Whereas if we tell them, "Iceberg, dead ahead! This is the very least you can do and we need every last penny and even that's just to get going!", they may be more inclined to give us something more like what we truly require.

C) It sounds from the above and from a KDKA/PG interview that Mayor Ravenstahl has already negotiated away half of the proposed payroll tax on non-profits. I hope that was the right move, I do not know the situation behind closed doors -- but this seemed like the one facet of the plan of which we were in relative control. Maybe we can regain it.

D) Most importantly, perhaps -- though the steps above are good and necessary -- they will be a tough sell to our neighbors, to the state legislature, and apparently to ourselves without demonstrated reciprocal sacrifice on the home front. That is, our crusade is as yet a military campaign with only one pincer. As such it will be easily blunted.

I hesitate to bring up Ravenstahl's close ally Bill Peduto again, but it just so happened that his manifesto for netting $80 million instead of a mere $30 million included several elements having nothing whatsoever to do with taxes -- and I'll bring up one now.

5. Baseline audits / Professional management / Outcome-based performance (Pgh Comet)

Since belt-tightening will no doubt be self-righteously demanded by our neighbors, and since further belt-tightening is actually quite impossible, it might be advisable instead to er -- to put on some pants.

We know that potholes and roadwork are issues that carry a lot of cache especially lately, and consume a fair chunk of our city's resources to boot. We know that some years ago, Public Works foremen made rounds personally every morning with a clipboard to evaluate complaint reports and then rationally plot out a strategy for the day or week, with the aid of some work orders from higher ups in the Department. We know that in recent years, those duties have shifted to well-meaning but completely untrained community guys and committee guys like our colleague Matt H in a sub-rosa fashion. We should be able to infer that we're not conducting this high-profile function nearly as efficiently as we might be -- and we should anticipate that with the "professionalization" of our service delivery (together with a little PR mojo) we could duly impress some of those same folks who now think of contributing to the City as throwing money into a white-hot furnace. If we're going on a crusade, we should do our very best to act noble -- or else we just look like marauders.

Now, there are those of course who are resolved to believing that Pittsburgh is in fact a clownish lost cause that ought to be "cut loose" or "severed" or "be merged out of existence and disenfranchised" or "left to its own devices" by the rest of the region. I think those folks are confusing cathartic emotionalism with hard-headed realism but I'm sure we'll continue to engage them.


  1. I glanced through the 300 page proposed amendment to the five year plan, and also read the parts Bob Mayo highlighted (what he chose to share) on his blog. It strikes me that the “overseers” (for lack of a better catchall) present new taxes as a last resort. Whether that is because they genuinely think Pittsburgh is wasteful and can achieve most of the needed savings on its own or they think realistically the State Assembly will resist giving us new taxing powers, I don’t know. I am disappointed to see Ravenstahl drop his pretense of being the great tax cutter and jump onto the idea of raising any and all taxes we are allowed to. He seems to think that the State Assembly is blocking something that ought to be, instead of considering how much of its power it should cede to Pittsburgh.

    Meanwhile, like you suggest Chris Briem might think, I wonder if the “overseers” are nickel and dime-ing us again, getting us just enough money to avoid operating deficits while leaving us with our debt and/or pension crisis intact. Sure, they are making noises about putting 10 million a year more into pensions, and using 50 million to help retire our debt, but when you compare those numbers to the hundreds of millions they are supposed to fund/retire …

    And two Ravenstahl allies, one of whom did not benefit from coat-tails, will get to vote on this five year plan and then step back. I am worried about their motivations.


  2. I am unsurprised yet extremely disappointed that the Trib has come down so squarely against this proposal. Not only does it reek of reflexive anti-tax ideological puritanism, it will also feed into this region's fierce parochialism.

  3. Nickel and diming. Until some other pie-in-sky bailout monies are presented, be they federal stimulus, casino revenues, FEMA loot, whatever.

    Hey, Mrs. O'Leary: Can we borrow that cow?

  4. Boo-hoo to our friends who pay an outrageous $52 to work in the city who use our paved roads, city side walks, public transportation, police, firefighters; use our world class museums, hospitals, universities and colleges, and sports arenas, for without them, they wouldn't have a nice city that a good-paying job would want to come and hire their suburban-living, taxes-are-soooo-cheap-out-here-butts (until more people start to move out there and their taxes are raised).

    And lets continue to pressure the Mega Non-Profits who drain city resources and reap in profits.

    I agree with Mayor Ravenstahl's plan. Can't believe it, but I do. WTF.

  5. Did you figure out if Matt H works at 311?

  6. Would there even be suburbs if there wasn't a city? Suburbanite Philly folks pay much more tax (income) and got used to it.

  7. Anon 10:38 - I doubt that he does -- I'm perfectly willing to take him at his word. That doesn't interest me.

    What interests me is if Matt and folks like him function as a sort of 311-111-!!!!11! batphone, which is the indication I picked up while out door knocking his neck of the woods. He's certainly to be commended for attending the best he can toward his neighborhood's needs, I was just uncomfortable with the actual authority he seemed to have been accorded. Prioritizing public works needs seems like devilishly complicated stuff required years of experience and training -- the idea of laymen hijacking the department to deal with potholes "the size of soda cans" makes me nervous. Especially when we're now in a position where our managerial competence is being called into question by the likes of Jane Orie and Infinonymous.

  8. Realism, in my judgment, would involve the city's acknowledgement that it has squandered funds and mismanaged its way into insolvency. Realism, as I view this situation, has nothing to do with believing the city is entitled to a bailout, or expecting it to occur, unless the city acknowledges and corrects its failures.

    The city's pension debt approximates $3,000 per person. A substantial amount, but not overwhelming. Most city residents, over the course of a few years, spend that on hair treatment or Starbucks or enhanced cable television (let alone all three). How did the city reach this position? Primarily, I believe, by relying on two kinds of pension advisors: (1) politically connected advisors who outsmarted the city with respect to fancy investments and (2) politically connected advisors who provided substandard investment performance because they didn't know what they were doing. Shorting the pension funds in lieu of arranging necessary revenue is also part of the problem. The problem has little to do with commuters not paying enough in per capita taxes, parking taxes, RAD taxes, property taxes (indirectly)and the like. The problem derives from city residents electing boobs, and those boobs making bad and costly decisions, followed by reptition of the cycle.

    The city's problem has been mismanagement. It provided substandard, overpriced services. It spent more than has been available. Its economic development decisions have largely been counterproductive. It has squandered hundreds of millions of dollars. Until this changes, there is no "realistic" argument for asking or expecting others to prop up a dysfunctional, bankrupt city.

    The city already gets more than its share of government-directed dollars. To be worthy of any more assistance, it must demonstrate that it has become competent, which requires change. I hope the city changes, becomes competent, and is part of a regional turnaround. Without change and competence, however, the realist recognizes that the city might need to hit bottom before it can change course, and that the longer that reckoning is averted, the worse the eventual reckoning will be.

  9. $3,000 per person......spend that on hair treatment or Starbucks or enhanced cable television That logic suffers from the common flaw of computing per captia including children. So by that logic a family of 4 is responsible for $12K. $3,000 is just pension give or take, so double that or more when you add in actual debt let alone health care or workers comp liability which could put another 50% on top of that. Even without those other liabilities you are now up to $24K for that family of 4. Even $3,000 is a lot for most city residents when you think about it. You also have to account that a lot of the city are students and seniors. Seniors also will never have much to contribute to that debt and the students move on without paying much into city taxes directly or indirectly. The folks who would ever wind up paying that are almost as small as a fraction of the 'total. Just SWAGing a number but I bet its half the population who really are effective debt payers. So now you are what? $48K per family of 4. Not a Starbucks number.

    The city already gets more than its share of government-directed dollars. I'd be curious what backs up that statement. Just gut feel? How much of city revenue is not own source generated and how does that compare to other similar cities?

    One way or another, the City of Pittsburgh has to support one of the uniquely largest daytime surges in population in the nation... while having a uniquely non-existant commuter tax. Or did, people forget there is this euphemistic payroll preparation tax on some. But setting that aside for a moment.

    We can debate how we got here. But the road forward is not solvable by de-latte'ing city residents. Trust me.

  10. Just to approach this from a slightly different perspective than Chris, to me realism is what happens in between the aspirations of Luke Ravenstahl and the machinations of Jane Orie and others. The State (particularly the Governor) has a certain stake in the Act 47 process. Even Jane Orie has a certain interest in seeing the Pittsburgh area thrive. So there will be pressure to make the next five year plan work. But the State Assembly doesn’t necessarily want to give Pittsburgh much more power to choose how to raise money, especially not from non-residents. The Republicans in the legislature do want to carefully and partially make the case that Pittsburgh is mismanaged, but they don’t want to make it stridently since their base is currently shaky.

    Realistically the Act 47 plan is going to move forward in fits and starts. It is likely the State Assembly will give Pittsburgh some of the taxing power it wants, but if the drink tax is any lesson, it won’t be very much. Then Ravenstahl will do like Dan Onorato did with the drink tax and blame the State legislature for tying his hands. I do think we may limp along just at the edge of running a deficit for at least a couple of years. Maybe Council will show a competence they haven’t so far. But I think realistically all the players will live up to the Peter Principle.

  11. Infinonymous, every comment you make about consolidation has some punitive element to it. Here, you're suggesting that Pittsburgh residents should deny themselves certain amenities to help rectify the city's finances.

    Leaving aside the question of whether this is fair or not, have you considered for one second what sort of effect that would have on the region?

    Let's say the various local laws state that everybody within the city limits must pay a huge tax to rectify the city's finances (about $3000, I guess, by your reckoning, but I would tend to trust Chris' suggestion that it's higher). But if they live just outside the city limits -- Millvale, or Carnegie, or Penn Hills, or Dormont -- they don't have to pay that.

    Can you predict any downside to that?

    Also, there are a lot of people who used to live in the city, and thus (according to your logic) bear some responsibility for the city's predicament, but who have moved to the suburbs. Should we expect them to pay your $3000 levy? Or do we let them off the hook because they've moved?

  12. (1) Amount-per-taxpayer seems a better gauge than amount-per-person. But the point stands: The numbers are serious but not "throw up your hands" impossible. Here is an even better approach: Determine how the city's debt stacks up against each dollar of property value (not assessed value, mind you) and against each dollar of income among city residents.

    (2) Anything north of a billion dollars is serious. What is to be expected when amateurish blowhards entrust nine-figure funds to scammers and dullards, when corruption and inefficiency are the most prominent attributes of a management system, when an entire city rejects reason for decades?

    (3) City residents are a fraction of the county's population, a smaller fraction of the region's population. Yet all citizens with business before statewide courts in southwestern Pennsylvania are channeled to Pittsburgh. Same with federal courts. Most county business is conducted in Pittsburgh. The State Office Building is in Pittsburgh. Most federal offices in the region are located in Pittsburgh. All three major taxpayer-funded sports facilities -- hundreds of millions in subsidies are in Pittsburgh, generating millions of event-related visits. The taxpayer-built and -subsidized convention center was built in Pittsburgh. Most mass transit dollars serve the city (how many PAT routes never visit the city?). Nearly every highway directs travelers to Pittsburgh; a beltway has been ignored. A disproportionate volume of RAD dollars are funneled to Pittsburgh, directing a substantial volume of economic activity to the city.

    That's for starters, and it seems enough to end the argument concerning whether Pittsburgh's 300,000 residents get a disproportionate economic boost from government spending and actions.

    This doesn't address, however, the issue of what would occur were non-city municipalities (and their elected representative) to begin to engage in the type of economic protectionism embodied by the "employees must live in the city" rule.

    (4) One way of easing the
    "daytime surge" burden would be to stop putting nearly every government thumb on the city's side of the scale. More government offices and businesses outside the city could reduce transportation congestion, promote more efficient delivery of government services, and relieve the city of the "burden." If the city continues to be a remorseless wasting machine, this may become the appropriate course.

    (5) I do not want the city to collapse. I also do not want the city's failures to drag the entire region to the bottom of the lake. I understand those who share my view on the first point. I do not understand those who ignore, or do not care about, the second point.

  13. It isn't just the Republicans in the state legislature who believe and acknowledge that the city is ineptly managed. It's just about every legislator whose district includes a substantial number of non-city residents, Democrats included. In fact, if you get a couple of beers (or maybe a nice steak) into them, most of the city-based legislators will admit that city government has been and is a basket case, too.

  14. Too much stuff to respond to, would take hours. Not sure I understand the point about county/federal and other business being funneled into the city. It benefits some folks for sure, but not the city budget much at all which is the question at hand. But maybe we can deal with that later.

    But there is a bigger point here being touched upon. A smart economist made this point to me (I wish I could take credit for it).. it goes like this. The massive liability unpaid by the city was built up over decades has indeed been paid for by all those past residents in that it was capitialized into the low real estate values here. So there is some anticipation of that big tax bill Infi is suggesting built into housing values here. You buy that cheap Pittsburgh house you think, but you are really buying a chunk of that liability as well. It all makes a lot of sense when you think about it. So if you bought a house in Pittsburgh in the last decade, you made out becasue of that big city debt on the books. The previous owner essentially paid for their share of the liability by getting such a low sales price on their property. You should just send that per capita check or cash direct to the city.. make sure you pay for all members of your household.

    It's a great argument and I am sure it plays out a bit. It breaks down a bit in our pathologically vacant neighborhoods where properties have reached such low values there can't be any such capitialization into values. and of course it may be impractical to send out those bills anyway. Any hint of a future tax to pay for the liability and you only make it that much less competitive to live in the city and people won't do it. Inman (a Penn economist) describes this as a 'revenue hill' although others may understand the argument as a laffer curve.

  15. Millions of people steered into Pittsburgh each year by the government for a court hearing, an assessment appeal, a written driving test, a birth certificate, a bankruptcy proceeding, a DCED presentation, an IRS appointment, an FCC test, a sewage appeal, a dog license, a Fed meeting, a Springsteen concert, a Penguins game, a ballet performance, a librarian convention, or a similar activity spend (and pay taxes) on parking, meals, overnight accommodations, entertainment, merchandise . . . and did I mention parking (with the nation's highest parking tax)?

    Many of the government-influenced uses generate rents, which indirectly fund property taxes and maintain property values; lawyers, accountants and other professionals who interact with the IRS, the courts and other government offices understandably tend to locate in Pittsburgh.

    The myopic focus of the region's mass transit and highway systems on on Pittsburgh steers substantial economic activity downtown, which generates tax revenues.

    Had Pittsburgh not been propped up by government policy, through disproportionate spending and activity in the city, downtown Pittsburgh probably would have collapsed some time ago. The days when businesses needed to be downtown for worker access are mostly history; many employees would prefer to work in suburban settings with free parking, safer and greener circumstances and easier commutes.

    Again, this problem becomes much easier and more pleasant if Pittsburgh beings to act like a grown-up (perhaps after at least a brief period of upgrade to relatively responsible adolescent). That is the preferred solution, from my perspective. But if it can not or will not change, I believe it would be immoral to let the city's largely self-inflicted wounds metastasize to the point at which the entire region is imperiled.

  16. First of all, you are saying the Pennsylvania State Assembly has contempt for Pittsburgh because it is mismanaged and corrupt? Talk about the pot calling the kettle … The State Assembly has contempt for Pittsburgh because, besides local legislators, it has members from rural areas (that don’t like urban areas) and members from Philadelphia (that, when they rarely think about Pittsburgh, think negative thoughts). The State Assembly is hardly worried about Pittsburgh being a black mark on the good name of government.

    As for businesses locating downtown, I agree that several types of new modern businesses could locate out in the suburbs or even dispense with most of a headquarters all together. Several have located out in the suburbs. But most businesses are not going to operate solely through computers, the internet and what have you. Although it is possible to operate a virtual headquarters, most bosses are still most comfortable being able to see employees. And if they have to be somewhere, many bosses and businesses still want to be near other businesses, for easier access to services and clients. Heck, some few people probably want to be downtown just to be able to go to the Duquesne club.

    You argue that downtown would probably have already collapsed if not for government involvement in the market. But there has been government involvement in the market place forever, since well before Pittsburgh ever existed. There are no pure free markets anywhere in the United States. And you make it sound like the government wanted to funnel people in this region downtown. I think it is more accurate that people in the region wanted to go downtown and the government obliged. Sure, McCandless would probably prefer to have the main regional courts and tax offices and whatever few remaining headquarters set up in their town. But so would Monroeville and Robinson and Upper Saint Clair.

    Anyway, I am interested in what will motivate the State Assembly. I feel fairly confident that whatever their rhetoric, it will not be moral outrage. That only happens on TV.

  17. I hope I didn't use the word "contempt." My experience indicates that most legislators believe the government of the City of Pittsburgh is inept a(nd unworthy of a huge money party), not contemptible.

    Any accounting, law or financial firm could operate primarily in the suburbs, likely (if large) by establishing several offices that ring the city. Plenty of clients are located outside the city, and those clients hate to venture downtown. Employees dislike downtown. Expenses are lower outside the city. Most employees would accept less pay for a suburban posting. Many firms would maintain a small Fort Apache office for work involving courts or government offices, but the savings associated with departing downtown would be sustantial.

    Businesses needed to be downtown a few decades ago, because employees used buses and streetcars; then-current communication technologies prized proximity; and a downtown address conferred prestige. Today, most companies have employees who would prefer to drive (and park without charge), can communicate electronically with ease, and already operate multiple offices, some in suburbs.

    What would motivate the state legislature to hand piles of undeserved money to Pittsburgh to fund continuing dysfunction? That's a tough one. Mass lobotomy? A handgun to every temple? Mass kidnapping of their children? Waterboarding (Republicans first)?

  18. Well, I need to actually read the new Act 47, because I don’t have a handle on how the taxing powers recommended actually work (in what order, and with what emphasis). But I think I can respond to your comment, Infin, even so.

    First of all, I suspect State Legislators realize they are (also) regarded by voters as at least as inept as City government. They are just farther away. But I should also point out that I am pretty sure the new Act 47 plan does not suggest the State giving the City a pile of money. Nor is that what Ravenstahl is asking for. What the new Act 47 plan does suggest is that the City a) raise its own taxes and b) possibly raise taxes on both non profits and people who live outside but work in the City. No direct transfers from the State, but new taxes are of course bad enough.

    Downtown Pittsburgh is certainly no prize, and I don’t miss working there. And certainly there are lots of companies who have located out to the suburbs, and I am sure their employees appreciate the free parking (although the traffic situation I’m sure varies by employee). But I think you are underestimating the power of critical mass in an ideal downtown situation. Particularly accounting, law or financial firms would likely want to be downtown to be near the courts, other financial firms or near the desirable high end clients. Even if there aren’t that many clients downtown anymore for an accounting firm, say, locating in any suburb might brand it as only wanting clients from that particular geographic orientation (ie, locating in Cranberry means you only want clients from the North Hills).

    But it little matter what we say here about downtown, in that it will not influence the amended Act 47 process at all. It’s just funny to read someone who dismisses downtown Pittsburgh so easily and completely.

  19. I do not dismiss downtown easily or completely. I recognize that a healthy, properly operated downtown business district would be an ideal anchor to a regional economy.

    But Pittsburgh doesn't offer that. Has not offered that for many years. There is no sign it intends to do so, or that it is capable of doing so, let alone that it might do so.

    Pittsburgh is insolvent, still aimed in the wrong direction, headed toward bankruptcy. It would be wrong, for several reasons (practical and moral), to increase taxes on non-residents before the city becomes a functional entity. It also is unlikely to occur: city taxpayers are a fraction of the county's population, a smaller fraction of the region's population, a rounding error with respect to the state's population, and the elected representatives of the majority are unlikely to hand their constituents' bailout money to the undeserving minority.

    It's a free country, so the city can continue to elect unqualified officials, to entrust its finances to scammers and dopes, to budget like there's no tomorrow, to offer substandard services at inflated costs. But following that path is not free. City residents and property owners should not expect others to pay the costs of such failure because it wouldn't be deserved and because it seems unlikely to occur.

    I hope the city changes course. If it does not, the region needs to chart a course that does not rely on a downtown business hub. The City of Pittsburgh is not entitled to drag the entire region into the muck with it.

  20. I must say both of you provide compelling arguments not only regarding this but other topics as well. This gives me faith that blogs (paticulary this one) can provide a good check and balance of our elected officials.

    While the city vs suburb argument as gone on for decades, I think it is safe to say we are interdependent. The city only represents a small portion of the overall county and regional population but, I think, the downtown and Oakland areas are important and impressive hubs for the region. At least they are impressive to the visitors to the city I talk to. But I think the contributions of the suburban visitors is also underestimated when the amusement tax and parking tax and sales tax are all taken into consideration. I certainly cannot get into the specifics like Ed and Infon and C. Briem can. One Steeler game probably generates about $400,000 in amusement tax if you consider $80 a ticket, 65,000 tickets, 10% amusement tax and maybe 75% non-city residents attending. This would translate to about 260 city resident employees making $50,000 a year at the 3% local income tax rate. This may be way off but my concern is we are relying on incompetent policticians at both the City and State level to solve the problem.

    Hopefully, a solution can be found which makes the city solvent while not detering business to locate downtown and thrive.

  21. Anon 12:13pm made some good points. I don’t have time to check his/her math, but the point is clear, sporting events bring money from residents and non-residents into the City. But day to day workers coming in from the suburbs don’t bring in much money, only parking (if they park) and the $52 thing, at least most of the time.

    (I really do need to try to sit and read the 300 pages. Maybe this weekend). I don’t think it is a good idea to try to talk about the amended Act 47 plan in moral terms. For one thing, a lot of politicians around here are incompetent, a lot are captive to certain special interest groups, and that’s before you even look at issues through the prism of the political parties (which doesn’t matter that much in the City anyway since Democrat is the default label for every politician). For example, I could express the case that it is immoral to promote the suburbs as a place for businesses or even people to locate, since that increases driving, which pollutes and uses more of our finite oil resources. I could make that case, but I don’t think it is relevant. Or to put it another way, since the US used torture on detainees, there has arisen a debate on whether it is justified. Along the way, people have brought up Lincoln suspending Habeus Corpus (sp?), the detention of Japanese-Americans during WWII, and so on. When you make a moral case in support of an issue, you can be certain that others will look at any moral ambiguities on the other side of the issue, and then it just devolves into a squabble.

    I will say I don’t think any government, City, County, suburb, State or dog catcher, has control over what businesses locate downtown or anywhere. The City has some limited powers of persuasion (tax and money), which they used to persuade Lord and Taylor and Macy’s to locate downtown. Didn’t work out well. So although I would like to see Pittsburgh’s downtown attract more businesses and residents (for the afore-mentioned environmental reasons I said I wouldn’t mention), I don’t see an easy way of making that happen. Certainly if we had a smarter Mayor, more people might be interested in the City. I didn’t vote for him. Grumble.