Thursday, July 21, 2011

On the Library Tax Ballot Question

Looks like we're going to see an especially meaty ballot this November.

The question would ask voters if they would support a property tax increase of 0.25 percent, or about $25 for every $100,000 in assessed value. The levy would raise approximately $3.25 million and help close the library system's budget shortfall. (P-G, Amy McConnell Schaarsmith)

It'll be interesting to see the results. As an option on the ballot with a webpage, we now have a link for "Our Library Our Future" to the right. If the "Screw the Stinkin' Lieberries" campaign takes to the World Wide Web, we'll let you know.

So much to weigh here. There's something about using the Home Rule Charter or whatever to end-around a hesitant executive at a specific moment in time that seems vaguely imprudent (if that's what it is). Perhaps more so considering that the funding which Council duly allocated, but the Mayor has long been declining to deliver, was intended to provide mere stopgap funding during a bad economy (and a not-so-great political climate for funding ... useful ... things) rather provide the state and major donors feelings of calm and reassurance for all time. And of course, with the City having likely passed the event horizon regarding its pension fund, and with federal and state education cuts so prevalent, Pittsburghers are likely to see their property tax bills rise before very long as it is.

Then again if we happen to value our hoary and sprawling Carnegie Library system that much, a dedicated local revenue stream may be the only way to keep it from withering away right along with the rest of City infrastructure and services. And $25 a year per hundred large doesn't seem like a lot, especially when you know what you're getting.

Now here's your impertinent discussion topic for the blog post. We have Patrick Dowd leading the charge within City Hall for a libraries referendum, and Doug Shields at the head of a similar anti-drilling cohort. Once upon a time we thought -- if the election went well for the forces of Greater Team Progressive -- that those frustrated in loyal opposition would use their strengthened and reaffirmed political capital during this once-in-a-generation window of majority dissidence (with the dependably rebellious Shields still on the legislature) to put very different kinds of referendums on the ballot. Fundamental, structural changes. Perhaps something to alter how board, authority and commission members are appointed and removed, or perhaps even Departmental directors. Or even something confining the Mayor's role to vetoing bills and issuing proclamations, whilst a City Manager appointed by the Council actually runs city operations. There would have been legitimate arguments to make about what "absolute power" tends to do and what one hopes the power of consensus might do instead.

However, as it turns out, the ballot will be employed only to effect changes (or reaffirmations) on very specific issues for rather specific constituencies. All of us apparently remain enthused about our Strong Mayor system of government continuing on into the foreseeable future. It's noteworthy, considering.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

On the City Charter Kibosh on Gas Drilling

If you haven't already listened to this delicious hour of audio (focused squarely on Pitt, Penn State, Southwestern PA and a Mt. Pleasant zoning controversy) then shame on you for six weeks:

Applicable and timely to the point of required listening in light of news that:

First thoughts:

1. "Conceivably" a Charter amendment would be harder to overturn than the mere drilling ban law which Councilman Doug Shields introduced and the City enacted last year.

2. Does this mean that Shields somehow came under the impression that future Councils -- perhaps near-term future Councils -- will be more amenable to taking advantage of this tremendous, game-changing opportunity for America, for the region and for the City that is clean-burning natural gas from the Marcellus Shale, and all the jobs, revenue, energy independence and energy affordability it will conceivably create?

3. How would such a referendum to ban local drilling fare at the polls here? Could it reach 80-20 in favor? Very few leaseholders in the City, and lots of Democrats excited about their rivers, all conditioned by a popular civic narrative which emphasizes overcoming pollution. Is that part of the impetus -- more activism and debate centered around Pittsburgh?

4. Are we witnessing the beginnings of a universe featuring Douglas Shields as the AntiKlaber?