Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Wednesday: Other News

When we entered council chambers today, members were discussing the results of Mayor Ravenstahl's compliance with council's wish that the Mayor limit the number of take-home cars for employees to 29.

The room was full of police and public safety officials who had received the executive order to surrender the vehicles.

Various members of council expressed their displeasure that the move to limit take-home vehicle was being executed outside of their intent -- that is, it was being inflicted upon public safety officials, including command staff, who were to be protected.

"Has this been politicized to such a point that some are willing to jeopardize public safety?" asked Bruce Kraus. He recommends again voting to override the veto on the original legislation, to send it back with guidelines for vehicle eligibility.

"We made this more complex than we needed to," countered Tonya Payne. "If there are abusers, we can deal with that."

"This can be resolved and this has to be resolved," said Bill Peduto, summing up. "We can't play a game with public safety."

Council also gave unanimous preliminary approval to amended legislation by Patrick Dowd to alter the way the city's pensions board gets appointed, requiring seats appointed by the Controller and by City Council.

"This is an all hands on deck situation," said Dowd, speaking of the need to hold all public officials accountable to address the city's pension woes.

After the session, Council President Doug Shields remarked to the Comet. "We're getting T-shirts made up. Free the Lamar Five. You can blog that if you want."


Yesterday evening, city officials met with Act 47 state oversight officials to discuss the state of the city's finances and the possibility of emerging from Act 47 status.

Luke Ravenstahl testified that when he took over as mayor, city finances were at an all time low. Thanks to the cooperation and assistance of city workers and city officials, we have engineered a financial turnaround that is truly amazing.

However, Ravenstahl said he was not there to either support or oppose the idea of bringing an end to state oversight. His voice rising in volume, he accused the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette of mischaracterizing his position yesterday morning, anticipating that he would oppose continued oversight.

"This must not be about grandstanding," Ravenstahl went on to warn his colleagues. "This is about you guys [the oversight board] telling us what to do."

Finance director Scott Kunka went on to paint a portrait of the "enormous financial strides" undertaken by the Ravenstahl administration.

"On the expenditures side, the Mayor has done our part." Although things start to look worse in outlying years, Kunka stressed that the picture gets a lot brighter in 2017, when debt service will be dramatically reduced.

Mr. Kunka was asked by the board whether his figures included debt of City authorities and OPEB responsibilities, he replied no it did not but it is being worked on.

Doug Shields took a strong stand that the city has in fact met the criteria to leave Act 47.

"This is what the law instructs us to do. This is what hte law calls for in its standard for review."

Shields described the deficit anticipated for 2011 as "not only Pittsburgh's problem, it is endemic" across the state and the region of the country. As such it falls to the state to provide solutions -- not the Act 47 coordinators, but the Governor and the State Legislature.

Compelling higher contributions from major non-profits was one remedy he argued for.

Bill Peduto took the opposite tack. "We knew this was going to happen. This is a part we've discussed."

"The intent wasn't just to get by for a few years. It was to create a sustainable budget."

Although Shields had specifically insisted in his testimony that "This council knows what it takes to continue a sustainable plan," Peduto went on to argue for continued and expanded state oversight, calling for "a five year plan that looks from a statewide level."

Controller Michael Lamb split the difference between the two. He argued that the City of Pittsburgh should leave "financially distressed" status as soon as possible, but that such an exit is not feasible at this time.

He cited three failures of the old plan: that the state legislature "gutted" the Act 47 coordinator's recommended tax package, that county government froze property tax assessments, and that non-profit organizations have not stepped up as much as they could.

Lamb called on Governor Rendell specifically to pressure non-profits like Highmark to provide additional savings for municipal and other government employees.

Mr. Lamb acknowledged that Mr. Kunka and himself sit on a task force looking at statewide solutions, "but when I say that our work in in an embryonic stage I think I am upwardly exaggerating our progress."

He also encouraged the formation of a "solid plan" to deal with unresolved issues related to pension, debt, worker's comp and healthcare.


  1. Thanks for the Kraus quote. He wants a 're-do.' Go figure. That's always the position of the advocate for spinning in circles.

    I blog about it.

  2. Regarding Kunka's assertion that the picture gets brighter in 2017 when debt service goes down, why doesn't someone look at what the debt service schedule was prior to O'Connor's huge and unnecessary debt refinancing in 2006? Kunka was finance director then and the refinancing was done solely to pay off a Zapalla. They converted non-taxable bonds into more expensive taxable bonds, and most importantly, it locked in high debt payments for another 5 or 6 years. The picture could have gotten brighter a lot quicker if not for this bad decision.

  3. "After the session, Council President Doug Shields remarked to the Comet. "We're getting T-shirts made up. Free the Lamar Five. You can blog that if you want."

    Tasteless? just a bit.

  4. If it was a reference to the Jenna 9, then maybe, yeah a little tasteless. That's why I've stuck with "Gang of 5"