Friday, September 11, 2009

Pensions: You're More Than Halfway There! *

*-UPDATE: Never mind. Guess we're resolved to play it by ear, and deal with problems as they will arise.

As you know, Pittsburgh can't realistically hope to make it to the level of 50% pensions funding in two years, considering the need to revise actuarial assumptions and asset valuations. Unless we can somehow "base year" those things.

Heaven help us all if you do try to do that!

What we need to do is give Pittsburgh's own plan a chance to work, but at the same time plan for the plan merely to pull Pittsburgh out of Level III Distressed Status, moving up a notch or two. We should adjust the bill's language to clarify some things, particularly the continuation of baseline human rights to collectively bargain with some organ. And finally, we should lock Pittsburgh in to joining the statewide pensions solution if and when its two year exemption fails to fulfill the mission of adequate funding.


The problem is, Pittsburgh's real pension obligations are likely to be so high in out years that even the yearly payments under legislation like this (more-so without it) will cause horrific curtailments, cutbacks and layoffs. And this would arrive just as the fruits of President Obama's largess and confidence, and a certain "trendiness", might actually be bearing fruit.

It is a fact that governments across the state will hit the very same wall because of these reality-making actuarial and asset reports. So if we want to put this problem behind us, and if we want our towns, cities and anchor-cities to have a legitimate shot at health, it would help if we also gave them a shot in the arm of some kind.

How about a revenue stream to kick off this endeavor? A modest one. I'm happy brainstorming for the next 48 hours and then letting Sen. Jane Orie (R-Pittsburbia) pick one off the chalkboard all by herself.

Personally, I think we should apply some sort of tax to certain large and profitable non-profits. Speaking only for Pittsburgh, these hospitals and insurers are by far our most profitable and sustainable endeavor, the reliable cash cow, the new steel -- remember they occupy more land than anything in Pittsburgh save for our rivers. Yet to our schools, our legacy debts and our aging infrastructure, this economic activity is totally segregated from the economy. If we seem out-of-balance, that's because it is. So although I think the highly profitable nonprofits are the way to go, the important thing to do is go.

Throw us some tools, in case our effort to our scale our way out of this oil well with our bare hands doesn't work out.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Three Big Honking New Ideas **

**- Updated with links to source material and stuff.

KEVIN ACKLIN wants to not-so-much lease Parking Authority garages, but rather partially liquidate the Urban Redevelopment Authority:

The Acklin Plan would avert a catastrophic state takeover of the pension fund without privatizing the city's parking garages, eliminating union jobs, raising taxes, or reducing services. The Acklin Plan also takes an important first step toward refocusing the city’s development policies on neighborhood investment and community development rather than subsidizing large-scale corporate projects. (Acklin material)

This is indeed profound enough to merit calling "The Acklin Plan".

Potential snafus: Is it well-enough thought out? Is there enough unspoken-for property that can find buyers in a timely manner? Is there enough URA liquidity to make up any difference? Are we ever going to get the requisite information out of the URA to determine this plan's feasibility?

Never let it be said that the URA's Rob Stephany can't turn a phrase.

Acklin responds: "The URA said yesterday that they have long had a 'laser focus' on the neighborhoods. I'm sure when people in Beechview and Brookline and Sheraden, in the North Side and the West End and the South Hills saw that quote, they fell out of their chairs."

Meanwhile, Jane Orie is probably thinking: Why don'tchinz do both?


FRANCO DOK HARRIS released a public safety platform.

These three cancers (substance abuse, "structural" poverty, and a lack of "traditional" economic opportunity) produce the atmosphere in which criminals are created. Under my administration we will employ community focused economic development to create economic opportunity and eliminate structural poverty while doing what we can to ensure that our streets are safe in every neighborhood. (Harris material)

One would have to call the lengthy platform "light on specifics" for now, but it's interesting how much of it harkens right back to the URA's turf.

Potential snafus: Do we have a model to demonstrate whether this high-fallutin' concept actually works?

Meanwhile, Luke Ravenstahl is probably thinking: I would argue that this is something that my administration together with Police Chief Nate Harper and Public Safety Director Michael Huss is already doing, and furthermore I would argue that the Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime or PIRC which my administration has been working on is in fact just such a plan.


COUNCILMAN PATRICK DOWD wants to figure out how this G-20 business got started and where it's going.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Council of the City of Pittsburgh does hereby exercise the power invested in it by Section 312 and Section 305 of the Home Rule Charter,

1. To establish the G-20 Fact-Finding Committee as a special committee of the City Council...

2. To declare that the subject and scope of the G-20 Fact Finding Committee shall be the objective and comprehensive collection of information and documents in matters associated with the following aspects of the City’s involvement in the G-20 Conference:

The decision to invite and host the G-20 Conference in Pittsburgh...

The planning and preparation for the event...

The costs to the City of Pittsburgh...

The operational decisions made leading up to the week of the G-20 Conference... (Dowd legislation)

Taking a look a what § 312 of the Charter deals with, the word "Irony" comes to mind -- except His Annoyingness would be able to respond that the intent and scope of this investigation are clear as glass, and it concerns a subject of immediately apparent public import.

Potential snafus: Why does he want the Committee to consist of the chairs of Public Safety, Finance, and Intergovernmental Affairs only? Is this to be the Bruce, Bill and Patrick Show?

Meanwhile, Dan Onorato is probably thinking: No.