Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What the Nets Should Know About Danny O

Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel accepted some endorsements across the state today, including one from Pittsburgh City Councilman Bill Peduto:

"[I] Want the people of western Pennsylvania to know it’s not about where you live in the state, it’s about what you stand for,” said Peduto. “Hoeffel will help make Pennsylvania a 21st century state.” (WPXI)

Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato is also earning his share:

Mr. Onorato was campaigning in the Lehigh Valley, where he was to be endorsed by officials including the mayor of Allentown, Ed Pawlowksi, and Easton Mayor Sal Panto in separate news conferences in the two cities. In Allentown, he also planned to appear with several southeastern Pennsylvania Latino leaders to announce the formation of Latinos for Onorato. (Early Returns)

Early in 2009, Onorato launched and promoted a series of "Cyber Town Hall Meetings". There were only two. Now comes Comet End-of-the-Road Apology Number Two: I feel guilty that I never got around to writing them up. Maybe if the blergosphoid had paid greater attention to them, we would still be getting treated. Irrespective of the politics or policy therein, I was extremely impressed at how Dan put himself in the hot seat like that, almost in witness-interrogation mode. If those questions were screened, they were not unduly scrubbed, sanitized or scripted over. His ability to parry and thrust with such energy over a long program frankly speaks well for his ability to campaign.

So without further ado, let's see what we can glean.


Cara from Pittsburgh (?) asked the very first question, the $64,000 question about base-year property assessments: how does that scheme not force residents of some communities to pay more than their fair share, and others less. Dan called that "a great question" but also one based on "misinformation" and a "big myth". He said that in the last round of reassessments nearly a decade ago, 85% of the property values went up -- there was no even distribution of values going up, down, and remaining the same. Thus, reassessing drove people into outlying counties. (I'm not sure this is logically sound in that perhaps reassessments make some properties go up a lot and others go up relatively little, or legally sound in that if nearly everyone is experiences increases, there ought to be corresponding millage rate decreases.) Yet his argument was that switching to a base-year put us on even footing with Washington, Butler, Beaver and Westmoreland counties, and kept his promise to voters not to raise taxes.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, as we know, would later side with Cara.

On public transportation, Onorato said we needed a "direct, dedicated funding source" like other transit agencies nationwide in order to provide competitive service. The best he could get from Harrisburg is the Drink Tax and Car Rental Tax -- and it took a year out of his life defending those, but at least that took the pressure off the Property Tax. On service efficiencies, after "25 years of mismanagement" at the Port Authority he at least got $95 million in concessions out of a new contract and is about to reorganize the routes. (That is still a work in progress.) Furthermore, Downtown-Oakland, Downtown-Airport and Allegheny Valley were priority items for federal stimulus funds. (Don't think those panned out.)

On a question bemoaning regional government fragmentation, he said "In my five years as County Executive, there's been major consolidation across the board." By this he meant row office reform, consolidation of 911 centers, and municipal court and bulk purchasing consolidation with the City of Pittsburgh. But on consolidating municipalities, "We need help from Harrisburg" to put it to referendums. "There's no reason 138 municipalities can't become 43 overnight" if we demarcate by school districts. He also explained about some efforts to consolidate police and fire departments regionally by "incentivizing".

The "Regional Joint Readiness Center" is not dead -- it's just still in the planning stages, and the federal funding is not guaranteed. It's moving along.

The non-profits' Parks Foundation is also holding hearings and moving along, with the intention of investing in county parks projects.


During Round Two, Onorato was asked how to make sure infrastructure and economic development is environmentally sustainable. Onorato said all county development projects have "a sustainability component". Over his tenure he's "cleared about 1,500 acres of brownfields" and saved "1,500 acres of greenfields", turning the brownfields into productive developments. Also he touted transit-oriented development including park n' rides. It's mostly about providing incentives for "green growth".

He had to address the drink tax and transit funding all over again.

Tim asked an aggressive question about why no tax decreases and why run a subway under the river. Onorato again termed it "a great question" but said told Tim that he's "politically naive and got your facts wrong". Whereas his Republic predecessor raised property taxes, Onorato said he cut them. (That is, property taxes.) He also reduced the payroll by 600 people. "Don't let that drink tax fool you" -- every single transit agency in the U.S. has a "local dedicated funding source". Meanwhile, hit again with a question about the North Shore Connector, Onorato described it as "something we've got to deal with" that goes back three administrations. If we'd have stopped it, we'd have had to give "all that money back" to the federal government.

If the City and County do merge, there are a lot of labor and other issues that will need to be spelled out in the plan. But he supports a merger. He's not in favor of 130 municipalities, but not of just 1 either. Merging school districts is a political non-starter. Competition among school districts is actually healthy and gives people a choice.

In response to a question from Celeste Taylor of B-PEP asking for "concrete numbers and facts" on efforts to improve minority labor participation and inclusion in county government, Onorato gestured toward a document, but said "I'm not going to get into all of them because it's kind of boring." He did say he "diversified all the boards and commission" to include "several" African-American and women, and said he's gotten "very aggressive" on the employment side through incentivizing. There was an apprenticeship program he was looking at adopting, and he said he'd stop funding programs that simply weren't working in that regard.

In terms of stimulus, he hoped to get money in particular for highways and bridges, and also brownfield cleanups, green buildings and parks, and water and sewer lines.

If the state significantly cuts the county's Human Services budget, "we're gonna have problems". However in terms of layoffs they're being pro-active in terms of providing re-training.

Asked about how Allegheny County can best attract an internationally diverse population and workforce, the key is really jobs. "Government should try to create the environment so that the private sector can really thrive." Keeping taxes low, working with the state to keep the corporate tax structure low.

Onorato does not believe in term limits for state legislators because he believes "it's the voters' choice." In order to get costs under control, a smaller legislature may not be as effective as cutting their budget or staff for example.

In terms of making cuts to cope with a worsening economy, Onorato said that Allegheny County has already done that, and is in a good position relative to the rest of the country.

I personally got in a two-part question about why the County can not accept absentee ballots right up until Election Day, and will campaign finance disclosures go up on the web any time soon as required by law. Onorato said the absentee ballot deadline "is purely a function of maintaining the credibility of an election -- you don't want chaos on election day" by people voting in person and trying to slip in an absentee ballot. However technology may one day provide a solution. Meanwhile, the campaign finance disclosures would "absolutely" be online "in '09". (I was interested in whether they would be up by his own May primary, but whatever. It looks like this is now online.)

Nobody asked any questions about abortion, gay marriage, gay civil unions or groundwater seepage.

Alright, that's about it. Later I hope to add a some archival video of Mr. Onorato in advance of the G20 that's been taking up space on my computer (if my WiFi signal stays healthy tonight), but I hope you've gotten a good look at our county executive through these Cyber Town Hall Meetings.


  1. I had high hopes for this forum as well. Unfortunately, Mr. Onorato ignored all LGBT related questions. Now, that's not necessarily a "big gay emergency" except for the promise by his staff that he would address them in the second town hall forum. Which he did not do. Then his staff promised personal answers. Which we did not get. We got a very late in the game pledge to support non-discrimination, but no answers on other questions.

    You can't address every question in this type of format. But you should not promise answers then fail to deliver. Or answer a different question. It seems disorganized at best and distration-attempt at worst.

  2. Ms. Mon - Thank you for having marked your calendar. I trust you did so with frownie faces with big tears welling from them. However, try to keep up. I got sidetracked in the middle of planning my outro -- I don't remember, something to do with airplanes and boats and organizing a squad of ninjas. Friday is the new death day.

    Sue - That's right, I totally forgot at the time you were in contact with his office and said you were assured he would address LGBTQ questions you and your mates were submitting, and were peeved at his not having followed through. I'd call that at least a medium gay emergency. The struggle against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting, or something. One would think keeping a journal would be proof against that, but the evidence suggests not so much.

  3. I was there too. I asked about the parks. Onorato had a series of park town hall meetings too. Another joke. Another failure. The nonprofit parks foundation thingie is nowhere. Zippo. Nothing.

    I gave Onorato an out too. I told him I'd do something.

    Parks are a huge failure for Onorato.

    Look at the ski lift at Boyce Park for an example. CLOSED. Best snow in ages and its a bust.

    Look at the closed indoor ice rink on the Pgh South Side, the only in the city (other than the Civic Arena). Closed, still. County could have picked that up. Should have. Suggested it. Same looms large with the Civic Arena. Would be a perfect Allgheney County Asset. Then when the next police state arrives and they need a staging area -- they could meet at the Civic Arena between community games.

  4. didnt pete wagner have something to do with the ski lift debacle? He does run the county parks.

  5. I wasn't really a big fan of Onorato, but now that Mr. "I don't care about anyone or anything except sticking my finger in the eye of everyone because I am a big baby who can't win anything" Peduto is supporting Hoeffel, I will definitely be supporting Dan. Case closed.