I'm starting to think that we over think things...
Firstly: Didn't we have a $100 million surplus as late as May? I definitely remember hearing quite a bit about Pittsburgh having built up an impressive $100 million "rainy day" surplus during March, April and most of May.
Now I'm honestly not trying to be coy here -- but why don't we apply $15 million a year from that for the next three years, to patch this budget hole until maybe something better surfaces? Seems like as good a use as any, and we'd still have $55 million left over. And if we don't still have that $100 million surplus ... what happened to our $100 million surplus? Did we burn through it already? Did anybody ever ask? If it's gone already, I'd love to see a story which itemizes where it went off to so quickly.
That's probably enough for you right there, but I'll press my luck.
Secondly: From that one blog post -->
And while you’re at it, city, don’t even expect a single one of us to believe there isn’t a gross, gross waste of taxpayer dollars happening on Grant Street. Shall I remind you of the quarter of a million dollars spent on 250 trash cans? (That's Church)
Alright, setting aside the trash cans. We seem awfully quick to accept that we need to generate an additional $15 million per year, almost as though we are pre-programmed.
Every October before a general election, some Republican or Republican-like Independent will say something like, "We could still be more efficient!" or, "We shouldn't be taxing students and the sick!" And the Democratic incumbent will be like, "Then you need to tell us where to cut! Do you want to get rid of the fire department? Hmmm?"
But here's the thing -- it takes a very specialized, localized institutional knowledge to understand the city's budget: what the line-items actually mean and what are the encumbrances on the funds; but more importantly, it takes an absurdly specialized localized institutional knowledge to understand the ins and outs of City operations, in order to figure out how things are executed day-to-day and how much things could cost or might cost if done differently.
One example: we needed funds to keep our libraries open, and bam! Doug Shields discovers $600,000 extra sitting around in the fuel fund, due to price shifts. You can't notice that unless you're on the inside -- and not to take anything away form Shields, but that's a case of newly unaccounted-for money going to a library. Can you imagine the opportunities if you actually wanted to take money away from someone's turf to go towards -- shrinkage?
A second example: someone told me once about the mysterious "Pension Fund 3" or "Pension Fund 2B" or some such. This was an account so obsolete, that one mayoral administration didn't even pass knowledge of it on to the next; each one had to rediscover its slush-fundy potential over time. Again, not to take anything away from individual Democrats -- but I've got to imagine that in a government in which only maybe a dozen people understand the budget (four or five administration officials, three or four councilors, maybe a couple staffers and Bill Urbanac) and of which no classically conservative Republican individual has meaningfully set foot anywhere in the building in 70 years (except for the one currently writing the Mayor's speeches, and we know he won't stir trouble), all we can do is trust the government blindly when it tells us, "Yeah, we've already cut to the bone, there's a gun to our head, give us more money."
My point being: this discussion was framed in terms of, "We need $15 million more per year, and we need it now, now!!!" and we just think we're too well informed to question why / how / whether-or-not.