Monday, August 27, 2012

Monday: How Have You Been Getting By Without These?

Did you ever put on a bathing suit as underwear because you forgot to do laundry? That's a little like what's going on with the RAD tax and the Port Authority...

The annual funding of $3 million to the Port Authority over the next 10 years will wreak havoc with the surplus, limit inflation adjustments and ultimately affect the stability of these important assets. In the past we stabilized the annual budget with the surplus so that assets could remain fully funded. But one needs a surplus to do this. With $3 million a year to the transit system, I estimate the entire cushion will be wiped out in five to seven years. (P-G, Rick Pierchalski)

If objections to the Fitzgerald notion actually, ultimately result in bus routes disappearing and workers let go, then yes that would redound to the detriment of whoever stood in its path. But if it results in any sort of compromise or more orthodox $3 million solution, that person will wind up looking like the rock-ribbed fiscal and civic watchdog on the scene. Take it as another object lesson in not misunderestimating anybody with proven survival instincts.


Darlene Harris, following five years of increasingly volatile trench warfare consuming city hall, this year earned a second term as Council's President by running on a new platform of, "Let's all relax, for a while." The credulous Joe Smydo immortalized the success of that initiative but in so doing seems to have shaken potential mayoral contenders back into overt activity.

Our Controller has spent the last two weeks firing a chain gun in the direction of the administration, while Mr. Peduto -- well, at the moment he appears to be showcasing his "vision thing" with such features as bicycling safety, "green" sewage strategies and community planning, though we know the hate flows strong in that one.

Meanwhile, and allegedly, there is Jack Wagner. Who in these locally portentous times is distantly and dutifully trying to support the 911th Airlift Wing, recommend changes at Penn State, and keep tabs on volunteer fire departments. I'm sure he would like to have a hand in the Great Rebellion, but does anybody really believe this guy is running personally? Truly, in a way that is not a psy-ops fake-out against one of the aforementioned challengers? If Wagner fails to chime in substantively and sharply on at least one natural topic very soon, it's going to be tough to justify his continued inclusion in the penciled brackets.

But this is all crass politics. And as you know, this is a high-class, no fraternizing public policy blog. With so much of consequence going on, now we can only give you glimpses of the substance behind the stories! So without further housekeeping...


Back to the Smydo piece, I cannot imagine The End of Fiscal Oversight is really going to be "an issue". Oversight and the termination thereof is conducted and decided by the State, the State is decidedly now run by Republicans, the City is run by Democrats, why should they desire to let us out from under their thumbs? And given our severe pension woes and thin capital margins, how difficult is that position even to justify anyway? "Ending oversight" will be a handy pedestal for some, maybe for us even a useful facsimile of a debate over "So yinz guys, how's Pittsburgh doin'? I think pretty good!" But at the end of the day the statutory fiscal discipline clearly still benefits us -- and to the extent we find it galling or constricting, well, there's nothing to be done.

However -- why the heck is the ICA spending $3 thousand a month on public relations all of a sudden?!?? That's INTERESTING.

I don't even care about the "ties" to the chairman -- it's a professional services contract, hire whoever floats your boat -- but who is going to be lobbied or persuaded into doing what? To date the ICA has done what it has done in a negative sense, limiting our spending, since it has the power and does not need to sweat how the yokels feel. Now however -- what's up? Pro-active recommendations? The old ones? New ones? Things city leaders have attempted, but as it turned out, maybe they required some public relations expertise to get it past Council and the community groups they heed?

Back to ALCOSAN sewer mega-upgrades again... sure, there is "grey" and "green" infrastructure and everything that entails, and there are certainly notable overlaps with politics and political proclivities which come into play. However the dichotomy between "grey" and "green" may serve as an unfortunate distraction from a more fateful choice: "thoroughly fixing it" versus "sorta half-assing it." Sure, there is an EPA consent decree with detailed requirements and timetables. But say what you will about squabbling local leaders -- when they find themselves on the same side and rowing in the same direction, never doubt their capacity and ingenuity to move mountains to earn exceptions, exemptions, extensions and to generally avoid annoying their near-sighted constituents with expense or change. Personally I would like to see us seize this opportunity to make a real worthy gift to future generations in the form of a water and sewer system they can be proud of: a Wonder of the World. But there are already signs of downward-bearing pressure.

What else... this is getting long already... "At such disquieting moments, it is time to move on." What does that even mean? A most troubling final word. You've got to grade these things on a curve since they are written by committee, and sometimes they wind up with a hung editorial board. But this one went so far as to state signs point to "a moral outrage, maybe even a human tragedy," but then oh bother keep walking? Although the Trib was doubtful that any "clear evidence" of wrongdoing existed they were very clear that Jordan's right to retry the unsettled charges is absolute and important. Meanwhile and of broader importance: did we ever figure out if "jump out" aka "scare" tactics were and are employed by the Police Department against "suspicious-looking" though nonspecific targets found in the dangerous neighborhoods that it protects? Because startling someone, if it happens, seems tailored to provoke a "fight or flight" response -- and one thing we did learn conclusively is that either fighting or fleeing is the start of an ugly situation.


  1. Speaking of revenue, the new parking meter are now working in Oakland.

  2. 1. Be careful wishing for water treatment wonders:

    2. Even if you think the city needs it, pushing to keep ICA while running for mayor is kind-of saying "Vote for me, but I can't be trusted".

  3. I hope it's possible even in this day and age to embark on a public works project without "graft and connection-padding" and further interest-rate swaps, not to mention entombed boring machines.

    Interesting to see Jefferson County brought up in this post; longtime ICA director Henry Sciortino wrestled with their issues for at least a few pre-indictment years. Am I spoiling a joke?

    Anon 4:59, you seem smart. Why do you think the ICA is hiring PR pros?

  4. Someday soon Corey's going to have to take a stand on something. For now though, it's all good in Corey World. For example, here's an abbreviated and somewhat loose but reasonably close transcription of Corey's August 25 interview on Rob Pratte’s KDKA show:

    KDKA: Fresh off the 20th annual cookie cruise. Here he is, Councilman Corey O’Connor, Birthday Boy. Didn’t expect anything less, it’s always a beautiful night on the rivers of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania....Gotta tell you your family is a class act and you always do things right. [Pratte prattles on about the glories of the city, concluding with] “Never has there been a better time for us to hit a home run Corey.”
    C: Oh, I totally agree. And I think that we will. We are doing that. This year we were one of 20 cities voted by National Geographic to visit. Did you ever think that would have happened five, six years ago? Next niche you’re going to see are young people wanting to open small businesses. Friends of mine who are living in New York City are living in maybe 100 foot apartments paying $1,000 a month, that’s crazy, come to Pittsburgh, for $1,000 a month you can have a three-story duplex.
    K: I just love the energy and you can hear it in this young man’s voice.
    K: Is there enough being done to keep retail, or bring better retail, to the city and downtown? Or maybe you don’t believe that and think it’s not that important.
    C: No no, I believe that retail is very important. People don’t want to drive over and over to a mall. I think downtown really needs a grocery store. … It’s gotta be a good location and a store that they want to invest in. I don’t think investors think there are enough people living downtown to make a profit out of it. I thought the land across from PNC Park was a good place to thrown a grocery store. It’s not going to happen now, but I thought it was a good place with the subway and you could jump on the subway from downtown and shop and come back. And that would help everyone on the North Side who doesn’t have a major grocery store right in the Strip there, that they can get to it as well. I think if we ever build a successful grocery store it will have a bus stop right in front of it. I don’t know why it hasn’t happened.
    K: Are we doing enough to get manufacturing and converting brownfields, or can we raze a few buildings? I’m a huge proponent of natural gas drilling. Cities are actually putting building like structures such as skyscrapers up around drilling pads so that you don’t even know it’s going on, and with the ever day ambient noise we have going on around the city a lot of it wouldn’t be noticed by the human eye or ear.
    C: Yeah, I believe manufacturing is huge and the next wave of the city. If you take Hazelwood, getting not only manufacturing in there but some type of company that’s going to employ local residents … it’s not a high-tech job where you need 5 or 6 degrees to even get interviewed. You still need basic manufacturing in this city, not everyone can go to college, and that brownfield is a perfect site for it. We’re trying to get that site ready so that if somebody comes into town, drives by, they’re gonna think about putting a company in there. You want local residents to work there because all of a sudden that turns around the whole community … now they’re earning money, they can spend it right there on the main drag, and now that spawns off more retail cause all of a sudden a Subway’s gonna open, another small grocery’s gonna open, you know, some sort of unique restaurant will open around a huge manufacturing facility. Nowadays they set ‘em up it looks like an old office space … like you said, they build ‘em so you don’t know what’s going on in there, it’s so high tech and safe you don’t know really what’s in that.
    K: And they’re so aesthetically pleasing. We’re out of time. Keep up the great work. Obviously, give my love to your family. I always love talking to an O’Connor. Corey O’Connor, councilman, of course, at-large, doing a great job.

  5. The ICA has always seemed to prefer staying low key, so the PR Firm is a mystery. My long-shot guesses are:
    1) They are worried about Ravenstahl's attempt to get out from under their control. The main benefit of the ICA has been their presence keeps the city from putting forth bad, or vague, budgets. A PR Firm could help them get a clear message on the positives they bring to Pgh. The only major move I recall the ICA making is nixing the Student Tax. That's not something voters are going to unanimously see as a positive.

    2) Conspiracy Theory: The powers that be are going to take another run at selling the parking assets, and want all of their ducks in a row this time. If the sate is going to try to force the city to sell, a PR firm could definitely help with the message.

  6. Maybe they're going to try to sell the parking assets after some publicity to get multiple bids?

  7. C-World: It's been a busy and productive time