Thursday, December 31, 2009


Still the man you love to hate:

In a New Year's Eve surprise, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl this afternoon vetoed prevailing wage legislation passed unanimously by city council 10 days ago ... Coming at the end of council's two-year session, the timing of the veto was apparently meant to leave council no chance to vote to override. (P-G, Rich Lord)

You know, lately there's been a lot of chatter about a wing of Council that is very concerned about being able to work "collaboratively", "cooperatively" or "interdependently" with Ravenstahl. It was based on a fallacy that was so divorced from reality, it was hard to spot until just now.

After many meetings, Council came together to pass this law unanimously, 9-0. The administration chose not to take part in the crafting of the legislation, chose not to oppose its passage, and chose not to veto it in a manner consistent with the sensible and fair operation of government. They chose to veto it on New Years Eve, at 3:30 PM, after the Council term came to a close (and one member had actually resigned to become a judge), thereby spitting in the eye of their governmental partners, and of the institution in general.

And we're supposed to believe it's Bill Peduto and his ilk that is the source of friction, resentment and ill will on Grant Street. Right. Happy New Year, Luke, I hope it was worth it.

Happy 2010, Pittsburgh!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

To: Daniel Lavelle, Theresa Smith *

From: Bram Reichbaum
Subject: Council Prez

Hi folks! I hope you've both enjoyed the holidays immensely, and trust you're both very well-prepared for your first full terms as council members.

I'm addressing this to you both because according to the recent Rich Lord article, you are the two remaining undecided votes for Council President -- the "swing votes" if you will -- and I see no reason why I shouldn't take that at face value, at least for the purposes of this blog post. As you'd expect, I have some heartfelt convictions on the matter that I hope you'll both find constructive in organizing your own thoughts.

First, let me get something out of the way:

"I have issues with both [declared contestants], to be honest," Councilwoman Theresa Smith said yesterday. Mr. Burgess seems too close to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, she said, and Mr. Peduto seems too far away. (P-G, ibid)

Wow! Theresa, it looks as though you're open to arranging a "surprise" compromise scenario in which Mr. Dowd -- whom you complimented effusively last week as terrifically helpful in joining your coalition working with the non-profit community -- emerges as President. Frankly, I'm impressed. You two share a lot of the right things in common, and in truth a world with Council President Dowd would be far from a disaster. However, let me put this as plainly as possible:

Trust me. Abandon ship.

Let's continue looking at this decision as what it is:

On its surface a contest between Councilmen Ricky Burgess and William Peduto, it is also an opportunity for council to declare either a more collaborative approach to the mayor's office or a more independent stance. (P-G, ibid)

You both realize that is fine grist for the pundits and the hoi polloi, but nothing more. Regardless of which one wins the Presidency, the same nine individuals are going to be on the Council, and they're all going to get to voice the same opinions, at the same volume levels and with the same personality quirks, either way. The math doesn't change. The arguments won't change. The degree to which a majority of you pull it together to either cooperate with or collectively resist Mayor Ravenstahl in any given situation won't change.

Which is not to say the vote doesn't matter, obviously. I think we can acknowledge what's really at stake here: with Dan Onorato likely to be moving into the Governor's mansion this time next year, Luke will be exceptionally well positioned to make a run for County Chief Executive in the ensuing special election. And if he is successful, by rule the Council President then becomes Mayor. I think we all have that scenario in the back of our minds.

And to that point, I can't really influence you; it's not like I'm going to change your politics here. I guess I could argue that Mr. Peduto is an eight-year veteran on Council who before that was chief of staff to member Dan Cohen for like five years, so not only has he earned it but he could hit the ground running without missing a beat if need be. Rev. Burgess is finishing his sophomore year in city government with some distinction, but I honestly don't think there's a comparison to be made there. We can't afford to be cavalier about these decisions anymore, there's a city out there to think about.

It also leads me to my main argument, and if you've been skimming so far (which would be understandable) you'll want to stop here and read this. The real reason a Council President matters is not how often they agree with the Mayor, but how well they get along with the other members of Council. Or more to the point, how they run a meeting, how they grind through a discussion, how they comport themselves during a good-faith disagreement.

And on this point, I've got to say: these past two years at least, Bill Peduto has been composed, contained, civil and fair to everybody on that Council, every day, hands down. I guess I haven't watched each and every council meeting, so maybe I shouldn't overstate the case, but man. He takes some abuse from the other side of that table, right into his face, and not at all veiled or circumspect or anything. And through it all he just sits there, gavel relaxed in his hand, with a neutral expression, slightly glazed over but bearing the patience of a saint. And when it's finally his turn, even during very heated discussion in which he holds a very hot position, he hasn't been taking chip shots at other members and waging verbal drive-bys on people. I think that gets back to experience -- he's been there, done that, and had it drilled into him that it doesn't work.

Which brings us again to Mr. Burgess. If I'm on Council, man do I want him as an ally. Smart, eloquent, knows the rules, knows politics -- but if I wind up on the opposite side of an issue from him, and he has that gavel in his hand, do I trust how that meeting is going to go? When he has the floor -- and Presidents will give themselves the floor an awful lot -- is he more likely to engage an argument, or to disparage the fact that someone is trying to even have an argument, shame the folks on the other side, and move on as fast as possible? And is he more likely to increase or decrease the emotionality of an issue? Compared to Peduto? Two years would be an awful long time to be stifled and disparaged, is what I'm thinking.

It all just gets back to seasoning, to experience. Burgess could stand to get rapped gently on the knuckles for the rough spots in his game, give him something to dwell upon until next time. For Bill Peduto, this is his time. He's been where you are, and next year wherever you are he'll still have been where you are. I'm not asking you to pledge your allegiance to him, but I am asking you to trust him to run your meetings. I think you'll be grateful that you did.


Participants in those meetings said that if Mr. Peduto wins, he has pledged to give the high-profile post of finance chair to Mr. Kraus. Mr. Burgess is said to have promised that job to Mr. Dowd. (P-G, ibid)

Wow, if I didn't know better -- and I'm not sure that I do -- that sounds like some "blogging" right there boy.

I don't know if that's as done a deal as it sounded, but let me give a shout-out: PATRICK DOWD FOR FINANCE CHAIR. That's your unity-government move right there, you guys might want to suggest it to Bill if you haven't already. Dowd brings passion and energy to spare, he brings a demonstrated interest in financial minutia, and lord knows he has the desire. I'd honestly love to see what he could do with that gavel, at least on days when the votes don't count much.

Frankly, if I'm Bill Peduto I don't know what I'm gaining by pledging Finance Chair to Bruce Kraus. He's less likely to vote for Burgess than this moldy piece of pizza crust that I need to throw out. Kind of a politically dunderheaded move of Bill if you ask me, but that's why we love him. Of course, I'm sure Kraus would make a very capable finance chair also -- great, now I'm sure he's going to clobber me next time he sees me, while Darlene holds me in a headlock.

Anyway. Congratulations on your respective victories once again. If you'd like to discuss the political future in greater depth -- yours, mine, ours -- maybe we should organize a retreat sometime soon, at the Embassy Suites in Murraysville. They have a bar next door that does karaoke, and I have a coupon.


Whatchu talkin' bout, Delano?

Let me get this straight. Payne, an incumbent with the party endorsement and the Mayor's support, just lost an election to Lavelle. Now Ravenstahl is promising to ride to the rescue of Whealtley, a state-level incumbent who will have the endorsement, from this challenge by Payne? Danny, let's say this is true and Jake is really influencing you to do that. Now let's say this is you once and for all demonstrating your boundaries vis a vis Jake n@, and call it a day.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Doomed: 1,466 of an Interminable Series

My dad also has a 311 story, one that he has been agitating for me to relay to you all for some time. He called to confirm what he thought he had heard on the news: that the casino parking garage was charging $80.

"Please stay with us, your call is very important to us", a computerized voice told him. "You are the sixth caller in line."

So he waited five minutes, ten minutes, close to twenty minutes.

"Please stay with us, your call is very important to us," the voice returned. "You are the seventh caller in line."

He hung up. Never called back. Hasn't visited the casino either.

Me? I once called to figure out whether my street was due for a recycling pickup the present week or the next. My call was answered in under one minute. I was expecting to get transferred to Public Works, which would keep me on hold for an hour and eventually send a team out to my house to give me noogies and a wedgie. But the guy at 311 told me instantly, "Yup, looks like you're due for recycling tomorrow!" I guess it was an easy question. I wonder if it wound up in the "resolved" or "completed" file.


If you ask me, the policy question ought to be whether we retain our parking garages and hike parking rates ourselves, or lease the garages and let private companies hike them for us. Driving is anti-environmental, regressive, and done largely by suburbanites you know.

"That we would plug a hole in the pension fund by making the city even less attractive to developers, shoppers, business, etc., is simply incredible to me," wrote David Paul Gleason, senior pastor at Downtown's First Lutheran Church and chair of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership's Transportation Committee, in an e-mail. (P-G, Rich Lord)

There are no legitimate ways to fill the pension fund. All means of generating revenue are incredible, awful, immoral and fattening.


If this was The Old Days, you all would already be commenting on this article by now (P-G, Diana Nelson Jones).


It occurred to me a little while ago what is the real purpose of Allegheny County's brand of home rule government. Not only does it vest a ton of power in one person, but instead of calling that person "The County Commissioner" or something equally commonplace, we call it "The Chief Executive". You know, as in Chief Executive Officer, as in Executive Power -- something that sounds real good when running for statewide office. It's a governor-building device, and we're about to see if it works. (P-G, Karamagi Rujumba)


Don't get me wrong -- we should be celebrating. There was a lot accomplished this year. I do wonder whether we will be needing to revisit either campaign finance or ethics reform just to tighten the bolts, and make the limits, you know, limiting. And I wonder whether "friends" will be needing to register as such on, and whether every hour spent providing friendly "advice" to a politician or simply hanging out at a sporting event will be logged as "lobbying". But we made our statements and put something on record and that will be very helpful for years to come. (P-G, Edit Board)


And of course! Thanks to the G20, Pittsburgh is on the tip of the tongue of influence makers halfway around the world. No publicity is bad publicity! (NYT's The Lede, Robert Mackey)

Friday, December 25, 2009


Some items of note been coming crost the blag-o-wire:

2 Political Junkies posts a tweet by Sue Kerr relaying an 11 PM KDKA-TV news report that Officer Hlavac has been terminated by the Police Bureau (bckgrnd). I know that's a long way to go but I can't quite believe I don't yet see it confirmed on any news outlet's site. *-UPDATE: Clarification, of sorts.

**-UPPERDATE: This is the story (WTAE)

Infinonymous highlights -- literally and figuratively -- the import of a quote by the defense attorney for state Sen. Jane Orie. The whole idea of a defendant being able to pursue that particular avenue of discovery seems fanciful and a bit impractical. Still -- if the D.A. is seen to back down off of Orie now, after that has been said, then confidence in the D.A.'s office will never be the same. Or will remain exactly the same, depending. So it's kind of an interesting moment.

Null Space
points out helpfully that The Rivers Casino bonds are currently trading at rubbish bond status with no particular cause for optimism in sight. I wonder whether The Great Recession has more to do with the poor performance than anything, and as soon as we experience The Great Recovery along with all its Lagging Indicators then everything will be alright, or at least not quite so scary.


The Slag Heap offers a typically smart post-mortem on the Tuition Tax debacle. The post seems to evaluate the episode's utility along two avenues: how much cash money the City received (we don't know if that's even been worked out yet but we're assured that it's "more") and the degree to which it shook up the system and will provoke further attention (we can't possibly know yet, only predict). And then it reaches the conclusion that both "sides" -- Luke and Good I suppose -- will try to spin the results to suit their own purposes, but the truth must necessarily be somewhere in the middle. Wherever the author is, for example.

Allow me to illustrate two other avenues by which the misadventure did damage:

One is that it sacrificed too much of Pittsburgh's moral high ground in its continuing and very necessary attempts to secure revenue. It ought to have been easy enough for the Little City That Could to win hearts and minds against cash-soaked medical centers and insurers, ever-expanding universities, or even oblivious commuters -- but to choose as our target "students" and "education" and "cuteness" surely soured a lot of neutral Pennsylvanians, and even Pittsburghers, against these efforts. It was as though we attempted to knowingly stake out the moral low ground. And now, folks are ill-disposed towards the Money Grubbing City That Hates Youngsters, just when we need sympathy most.

The second is simply that, according to the Mayor's victory-tale, he bluffed and outmaneuvered the non-profits into making concessions. Yet he did so extremely publicly. And so like the -- like the Grown Man Who Cried Wolf -- this will necessarily erode his political trustworthiness down the line. The next time he rolls out a major initiative, or threatens action, people will wonder, "Yeah, but what's he really getting at? What's his angle? Is he serious this time?" That hesitancy could add real friction to other situations.

I don't want to oversell all that, though. The fact of the matter is, the New Pittsburgh Coalition -- for all its present foibles -- is the best vehicle we have going. What we should do, if we are serious about expanding the city's sovereignty and tax base in the face of these horrendous challenges, is commit this New Pittsburgh Coalition to our memory: editorialize on what a great idea it is, remind ourselves to keep reporting on it somehow, keep asking hard questions of its members, and treat it with anxious hope and guarded optimism for months and months to come. Embryonic as it is, it is nobly enough conceived and could yet grow to do the trick.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Tuition Tax to go Unvoted Upon as Nonprofits Pledge to Do Something *

Details (not) emerging.

The University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University and Highmark will make contributions, although they were unspecified. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Highmark? Huh? Duquesne Light?

*-ANALYSIS: Well, this is certainly not the kind of deal you'd want to take home to mom. The mayor agrees to shelve his Student Tax proposal, and in exchange the universities INSERT RHETORIC HERE. However, to the extent that Pittsburgh has now proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that it does not have six public officials that are willing to situate themselves inside a pit of live public relations scorpions along with what would otherwise be the rest of their city, this is a day for back-slaps and cigars all around.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Spoken Like a Scientist!

Google is moving its local offices from CMU campus to two floors in Bakery Square, and is said to be "aggressively hiring" to fill the rest of that new space.

"I'm so happy!" said Audrey Russo, president of the Pittsburgh Technology Council. "Our self-esteem should start to go up now, don't you think?" (P-G, Erich Schwartzel)

Whattaya' think, Pittsburgh? (& see also Pgh Is A City)

And by the by: is this whole continuing Barack Obama / Bill and Melinda Gates / Google megacloud swirling over the City okay with everybody? KCool...

Brian O'Neill's Call to Arms: "CONVENE!"

By now you will all have reviewed Mr. O'Neill's proposal:

Using whatever grammar we like, Pennsylvanians need to take a cleaver to our oversized, over-compensated statehouse and begin anew. (P-G, Brian O'Neill)

And then again:

If there's a state constitutional convention (as we surely must have), changing the me-me-me culture of Harrisburg should be Job One. Mr. Dawida, for one, suggests that a convention shrink the size of the Legislature by 20 percent, depoliticize the redistricting process and set term limits of, say, 12 years. (P-G, Brian O'Neill 2)

First of all, I'd like to recommend that if we do this, the big heavy rock at the tip of our battering ram should not be "an online petition". Those are not so intimidating -- people fully apprehend how little physical and psychic commitment goes into affixing a name onto a computer form. Get those people on the streets with paper and pen, or with quills and cameras if possible.

Secondly, I'd like juxtapose Mr. O'Neill's frustration at Harrisburg with a portfolio published recently by PoliticsPA:

The Pennsylvania Influencers list is made out of the Commonwealth's top business, legal and civic leaders, whose opinions are respected by peers and elected officials alike. The writers consulted with a wide variety of geographically and politically diverse individuals who helped identify these 100 people as the "insiders who insiders turn to when in need." The group is a mix of donors, organizers, confidants and consultants. These are the people whose opinions matter in the Keystone State. (View from Burgh Chair --> .pdf)

The single-issue magazine came out just in time to hype the year's annual Pennsylvania Society dinner held in New York City. It is divided into the top 50 Democrats and the top 50 Republicans. John Verbanac is listed 40th or so and as a Democrat -- which is fair enough work for an anonymous blog that's good at "influencing" things.


My points about the Influencers in regards to a possible Constitutional Convention are as follows:

1. I imagine things are the way they are in Harrisburg because individuals such as the 100 Greatest Influencers are generally content with it. Lots of stability, lots of protective inertia, power spread thinly and accumulating in predictable, trustworthy nodes of control. A culture of, "Wait your turn and earn your stripes first," and then, "You can do anything you want." Difficult for the average person to use, easy for the right persons to operate reliably.

2. Do we imagine the prospect of a Constitutional Convention along with it's stated aims will earn support, neutrality or opposition from most of the 100 Greatest Influencers? (It is worth going through and asking them. They are not all History's Greatest Monsters.)

3. Nevertheless I believe most of them would be sorely disinclined to see slashed the number of their clients legislators to petition, to see cut short the reigns of some of their favorite and most dearly cultivated vendors legislative leaders, or to see reformed the agreeable, "civilized" way in which we manage redistricting every decade.

4. So. While I'm dubious about a Convention ever being convened, I'm not above capitalizing on that inspirational concept to stoke political demand for those specific reforms: overall shrinkage, modest term limits and neutral redistricting. Make no mistake -- those are necessary reforms in that body.

And if we're going to circumvent the Influencers, it's probably best to do so with a measure of populism.

5. Which means more tea parties. Much respect 2 online petitions, but if I've learned one thing about politicians it's that nothing scares 'em like a bunch of feisty people showing up uninvited.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Parking Authority Hires Yet Another Consultant, Will Pay It Instead of City *

This blog post will expand as time allows, but the questions begged in this news (P-G, Rich Lord) should be immediately apparent.

For background on the policy, see this archival post from the New Pittsburgh Hoagie (and many other sources).

Maybe it begs one main question -- what are the five four board members of the Authority purported to be experts in, if they can't make decisions on anything?

Morgan Stanley has been paid $3 million out of a prospective deal to manage its brokering, and Scott Balice was paid just $30,000 to provide "a second set of eyes." Now $600,000 out of the city's operating budget is being paid to "a consultant" to analyze the final decision, and upload its findings to a closed network -- for which we are paying an additional $25,000 to a company called Transperfect.*

SLOGAN SUGGESTION: "It's better than transparent -- It's Transperfect".

From the home page:

Virtual Data Rooms (VDRs) can shorten the due diligence process by over a month. TransPerfect Deal Interactive offers the fastest VDR solution in the industry, allowing you to host and close transactions in record time.

I'm picturing the Director of Finance, the Director of Operations *-UPDATE: the Chairman or Director of the Parking Authority, and the Manger of Policy all bursting into Council Chambers one day, screaming "Sell! Sell!"

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

R.I.P.: Fred Honsberger, Local Talker

See link: KDKA.

In addition to many notable achievements, Fred Honsberger defeated a notable blogger way back in 2005.

Fred ran a great show, and I always enjoyed listening to or watching him. Period. He could do a straight-into-camera take that deserves mentioning in the same breath as Johnny Carson. And you could tell he cared. My sympathies to his family and loved ones.

BELATED ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Penn Hills police officer Michael Crawshaw. Gunned down in the line of duty, like so many others on our streets and overseas. The Hons Man would not wish to jump out in front of any of them.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Hoeffel: Pittsburgh Needs More Revenue. [*]

"I do know that Pittsburgh needs more options for local taxes," Pennsylvania candidate for governor Joe Hoeffel said yesterday afternoon, on a conference call with "progressive bloggers" from across the state.

"It's bad for a government to rely on one tax so heavily -- and the property tax is such an unfair tax!" He made reference to lost homes and a weak correlation between property value and ability to pay.

The Governor of Pennsylvania gets to appoint the chair of the 5-member Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (ICA), as well as directly appoint or influence the appointment of many officials at the ICA and at the Act 47 Team -- the two bodies which govern Pittsburgh money matters. Pittsburgh was declared a financially distressed city six years ago, and receives some state protections along with increased state oversight.

When asked about the possibility of a Commuter Tax, the Montgomery County commissioner pointed out that Philadelphia employs a "significant" Wage Tax on all persons who work in the City -- which is similar in function to Pittsburgh's Occupational Privilege Tax, which sometimes itself gets called a Commuter Tax. Some in Pittsburgh have considered raising that tax from $52 to about $150 annually, but the oversight boards and the state have not gone along. He says he would favor something along those lines for Pittsburgh.

"The Mayor -- acting in good faith -- proposed what I think is a bad idea," that being the Tuition Tax now being considered. "But I can't really criticize him for proposing it, because the City needs more revenue."

On levying a "payroll preparation" tax on the non-profits, he said, "That's tricky" due to the legal issues, but that he does not yet know enough about Pittsburgh's notions in that regard. *

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has often stated that "it's irresponsible to say 'you can't do this' without coming up with a solution to the problem." State Auditor General Jack Wagner -- another candidate for governor -- said today of the Tuition Tax that "it is not a time to increase taxes."


Earlier during the call, Hoeffel repeated his call to exploit Pennsyvlania's natural resources for jobs and energy, and his call to levy an Extraction Tax that coal, oil and other energy companies would pay to cover environmental remediation.

"That's the only way to deal with it in an intelligent way."

Since some damage can not be remediated -- the wrong ground water well gets contaminated, for example, and that's it -- Hoeffel was asked whether it would also be necessary to strengthen regulatory oversight and roll back relatively recent "streamlining" among permitting bodies.

"I think we have to, if not reverse it, we have to catch up to these environmental issues," Hoeffel said. "D.E.P. has to step up to the plate, and has to have the funding to do so." This returned him to the Extraction Tax.


Hoeffel also reemphasized his call on Tom Corbett and the other gubernatorial candidates to support state bills that would expand both hate crime and anti-discrimination legislation to include protection based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

One voice on the call pointed out that Hoeffel has one of the only websites that makes clear his position on abortion.

"I'm not sure why they don't stress these issues," Hoeffel said of his Democratic opponents, upon being asked. "I'm trying to set an example. I'm gonna lead by example."


Hoeffel had recently returned from the Pennsylvania Society weekend retreat in New York.

"First of all, it was oversubscribed," Hoeffel informed us. "1,500 people packed into the Waldorf Astoria."

In addition to his attendance at that event, he also hosted a "midnight reception" at the W Hotel across the street.

"You know, a little edgier. We called it 'Hoeffel After Dark'."

He said that although this was his first time at the society's Dinner, he'd been to "the event" before. During this year's political pilgrimage he had the honor of speaking before the PA Manufacturers' Association -- as one out of only three Democrats accorded a speaking role at that event. He says he just laid out his usual ideas regarding jobs and environmental concerns.

"It was ... well received."

*-UPDATE: At a campaign event in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of East Liberty, Hoeffel clarified his remakrs about allowing Pittsburgh to explore a Payroll Preparation Tax that can be applied to some of its largest nonprofits (e.g. the "Eds" and "Meds").

"I don't want to come off sounding too negative about that idea," he said. "I think it's a very appropriate tax base."

Yesterday's Meeting on the Student Tax

So here's what happened yesterday:

Council member Theresa Kail-Smith led a televised special session of Council on the proposed Tuition Tax and on the City of Pittsburgh's desperate financial straits. It included four or five university heads and leaders -- including Pitt's Mark Nordenberg -- and of course the rest of the fairly evenly divided-over-the-tax Council members, and also the Mayor.

Mayor Ravenstahl sat sort of squeezed in to the left of Chair Smith, nudged into a corner, but was given generous leave to have a turn at speaking whenever necessary or appropriate. The whole format was uncommonly free-wheeling but fundamentally organized.

The one rule most frequently enforced by the Chair was that everybody should "focus on solutions". Of course that did not always happen -- there were recriminations on both sides sprinkled around fairly liberally -- but the discussion proceeded adroitly.


Especially once Tonya Payne got to it.

"Let's say, hypothetically," she said, and this is not an exact quote but it is very, very close, "and I hate to even say 'hypothetically', but let's say hypothetically we table this on Wednesday. What's your move?"

There was a low chuckle or two and then a silence. Motznik was looking suitably shocked and impressed.

"No really, what's your move?"

The University presidents said some stuff about being productive, figuring out a better way to solve these problems, working together, early in the year, not waiting until November and another year's budget deadline to get on it. Acknowledgments all around that trust is a huge issue and we need to start actively, seriously and urgently soon.

Motznik said he hates the tax but he hated having to raise property taxes or slash city services worse. "That's who I represent." He also asserted that the meeting didn't seem to be very productive and that nothing had changed.


Reverend Burgess talked about certain legislation he has authored, something that has earned the unanimous support of all City of Pittsburgh elected officials (what was it going to be? Zoning, maybe?) --legislation having to do with the formal acceptance of PILOTs. First of all, it would make non-profit contributions no longer anonymous under the umbrella of the Public Service Fund. Second, it sets up the formal legislative authorization to accept them and I suppose to stipulate certain assurances in return. He challenged the university presidents to take advantage of that and hand over the money.

In the event that offer is not seized upon, Burgess also said he's going to try to amend the bill so that the Tuition Tax won't kick in until July 1. In any event he'll vote for it.

Burgess also talked about the two sides as two warring armies or rival gangs. He wants to be a negotiator, but both sides want to have a "shooting war". We shouldn't have one, and this tuition tax will start one, so don't make us go through with it and start shooting.

This "shooting war" is a lengthy legal battle, which will necessarily precipitate an even fiercer and wider media battle. Politicians complaining about Pittsburgh's own rip-off universities. Universities talking about how awful the politics have gotten in Pittsburgh. Everybody in the world made increasingly aware that the City is in state oversight and a financial basket case. Real scorched-earth material.

So Burgess is willing to enact the tax, but wants to hold off on "collection" until July. It seems like what the Rev wants to do is fire a warning shot -- in a room where everyone has guns, and everyone has someone from the other side locked between his or her cross hairs, and many have itchy trigger fingers. But he wants to avoid a fight.


Dowd started talking, and everyone got up and left. No not everyone -- but Ravenstahl and Payne and Motznik and maybe some other people at least, not to mention most of the reporters.

Dowd said, "Well, it's clear something's changed", and talked about how "in 2011, I'll have to vote for something," meaning most likely some kind of tax, somewhere, on something. "I can't be against everything."

Darlene Harris said some things, mostly supportive of the tuition tax idea in comparison to other alternatives. Kraus meanwhile was opposed. Ditto Peduto, who called it "taxing debt", and potentially "the most regressive tax in the state". Ditto Shields, who called the old Act 47 plan a "pack of lies and garbage". Kail-Smith seemed genuinely solutions-oriented throughout, and just a little sharp toward Burgess regarding his extremely frank and passionate negotiations, and the many allusions to warfare.

ANALYSIS: If I know one thing about Tonya Payne, it's that she's all about the community first. And at this point I think she's legislator enough to admit that her constituents educated her, brought many valid concerns to her attention -- and that's a good thing -- and besides which the tax will not be taken "off the table" like the universities demanded. There will be a vote to table the tax, not to shelve it or defeat it. Future Councils can always decide to enact it when future Councils feel that it is appropriate.

For this Council to now authorize a tuition tax "ambush" sometime out into the future would set a foul precedent -- I think everybody can see that.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Glance Over at the Five-Oh

Now this is a story about the police department and the Mayor that I care about.

On December 11, 2009, the ACLU and CCR filed an amended complaint in the case alleging that the police engaged in a deliberate campaign of harassment and intimidation that prevented the two climate and environmental-justice organizations from organizing and supporting demonstrations. (ACLU)

Local police leadership over the G20 period made some rash decisions based on political passions. The results were frequently pretty ugly. I want to live in a free, politically vibrant and welcoming city with safe and active college campuses. I would be uncomfortable moving forward to the next world event (or even local event!) without a thorough legal accounting.

This is a story that I don't care about, no matter how hard I've tried:

Mr. Ravenstahl declined to answer questions about Cmdr. Trosky's role in his protection. (P-G, Jonathan D. Silver)

Well, strike what I just said: the Chief probably should not have changed civil service rules in 2007 to allow Mr. Trosky to make the leap to Commander so quickly. Those rules were probably in place for a reason -- something to do with decreasing tensions within the police department just exactly like this. Similarly, rules against berating and cursing at subordinate officers, to say nothing of drinking on duty, are probably in place to ensure an efficient level of morale and smooth operations all around. Perhaps a vigorous refresher and some serious reflection is in order.

The Mayor however deserves broad latitude in determining who gets to serve on his or her own personal security detail, how and when he or she wants to, without explanation -- so long as employment and civil law is not being violated. Period.

Anything else is a matter for the new Director of Personnel. Welcome aboard! It's a fun job.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Return of City-County Consolidation; or Solvency via Rapture

I never supported the unilateral consolidation of the City of Pittsburgh into Allegheny County -- and I still do not.

But the argument proffered today by Duquesne University chancellor and former ICA big shot John E. Murray Jr. in the Post-Gazette is delivered with such impeccable timing, and with such refreshing frankness and focus, that it deserves to be seized upon by all of us as a challenge to produce something better.

The tuition tax, even if determined to be legal, would be another Band-aid. (ibid)

Yes. That is correct. Neither the $15 million per year this imaginative tax would generate nor certainly the annual $5 million we are requesting in its stead would be near enough to sustain Pittsburgh through the end of its debt plateau in 2017, especially given yet-to-be-determined mushrooming of our pension payments.

But the essential solution is not to tax more; it is to spend less. (ibid)

In point of fact, we need to do both. If today we were to wave a magic wand, undergo a lightening-fast political enlightenment and commence cutting with enormous political courage, we would still retain enormous obligations from the past to pay in full. And those few agitating for bankruptcy should understand that bankruptcy judges realize that governments possess more options for revenue generation than individuals and businesses. Governments are too powerful to be given permission to fail easily. Since governments can access pools of taxpayer funds from hundreds of avenues, they might be compelled to do so -- brutally -- if we ever went down that road. So we need to pay for all the irresponsible decisions of the past -- of decades ago and of months ago -- whether we like it or not. Period.

So we need to raise the right taxes -- and a commuter tax and our non-profit payroll preparation tax are both truly fair, utterly commonplace and fully responsible options that would be available to us, if the state legislature and its oversight boards ever roused themselves from their own narrow political machinations or tired of resisting.

And at the same time, we need to reform our government practices -- from switching our employee benefits packages to defined contribution plans and 401(k)s, to bargaining aggressively with our unions at the conclusion of every single contract from now on with the aim of dramatically shrinking our payroll expenditures, to closing every police station and fire house that neutral outside public safety experts advise us we can, to consolidating every service appropriate with the County and other governments starting with Public Works.

What we do not need to do is this:

The city should have appropriate representation on the non-salaried County Council and a professional manager, similar to a borough manager, working under the authority of the county chief executive. (ibid)

Thanks but no. We will not allow ourselves to be managed by an unelected and necessarily less visible bureaucratic appointee. We will not put all our faith in County Council, upon which the city already enjoys proportional representation, but which can never be constituted to adequately address, understand or even notice all the challenges of city life. And we will not imagine for a second that our County government, given its comparatively slender portfolio of present responsibilities yet its own extremely significant financial problems, is any better capable of tackling these issues than our existent suite of City representatives.

The solutions to our problems do not lie in handing them over laterally, or up to somebody better suited. Walk the earth and try to find naturally superior politicians -- you will be gone a long time. The solutions lie in hunkering down and bringing the tactics of all our political schools and ideologies to bear without prejudice, like people with something immediate and personal at stake.

It is in fact human nature, not Yinzer nature, to resist change and delay hard work until crisis is upon us. Well, here we are. Bring it on.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Pittsburgh Promise Again Rears Homely Head [*]

For background on the universities' joint "No" letter, read the P-G's Schackner and Blazina and the Trib's Brandolph.

After delineating various reasons why they think the Student Tax is not ideal and how the Mayor has been less than perfectly constructive:

On the basis of those subsequent discussions and serious reflection, PCHE will not accept your demands. Among the issues your demand presents are the following:

a. When you solicited significant contributions to the Pittsburgh Promise from the non-profit community, you significantly diminished that community's capacity to support the City, a fact that you have acknowledged on other occasions.

That was point "A".

I am reminded of when the Promise's funding was rolled out, and um, it hit a snag, because UPMC had been quietly assured of receiving conditional tax credits from the City for its donations. One council member pointed out that giving to the Promise was not the same as contributing to the City of Pittsburgh, its infrastructure and its obligations; it was rather like giving to Toys for Tots. We are now seeing one way in which officials' energies poured into the Promise seem to be detracting from the core missions of city government.

*-UPDATE: Vannevar has some fun with this: LINK.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Judge James Makes Self Unpopular, and also, Prevailing Wage Legislation

FIRST. That law limiting the number of liquor licenses on Carson Street? Gone!

Judge James found that the ordinance was illegal because the city can't create special rules for bars. The city law was "an infringement on the power of the [state] Liquor Control Board and is invalid" becasue state law reserves most power to regulate alcohol for that agency. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Bruce Kraus must be fit to be tied. All his best laid plans gang aft agley.

NOW. That strip club that was supposed to open in the West End? Happening!

A year ago, the City Planning Commission gave the club a negative recommendation. The commission was supposed to send the information to city council so it could hold a public hearing on the matter, but council said it never received any notice.

Club owners appealed to Judge Joe James, who ordered city council to hold a hearing, but according to a letter obtained by Target 11 from the assistant city solicitor, the recommendation was never forwarded to city council.

Finally, after all the delays, James held his own hearing. (WPXI, Rick Earle)

I think we can sum much of this up with, "No politician in any branch, wing, or clique wanted a vote to be held in which the final unanimous decision would be either very illegal or very unpopular."

It's a shame we needed to violate somebody's right to due process to get here. But moving forward, there are a lot of curious questions about the time line and about how and when the news broke that will probably be asked.

AND FINALLY, Council debated prevailing wage legislation for a while today, with special guest stars from both labor and industry. Do read the Rich Lord update for yourself, it's a gooder.

I'll add a couple of tweets:

That's the real "insufferable" thing. Especially if it's strategic, as in: opposing some legislation but not wishing to be put on the spot to say so and why. I'll take a "squabbling" member present over a dignified member absent any day of the week.

#Sigh#, gonna have to watch this one before the final vote. I wonder will that come this year or next? Kind of makes a difference.

I got no beefs with Dowd, but is he implying that he lacks such a personality? City Council is all pots and no kettles sometimes.

Well that sounds like something which probably happened.

At any rate, the reason I include prevailing wage legislation in this post is that even if we pass it, Judge James will probably overturn it because it makes life too pleasant for the yinzers.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Mid-Day Update of Joy

Good thing my fishin' hole has WiFi...

Oh yeah, I remember when that happened. That sucked. I could go on.

That's an interesting assertion. Offhand I'd say it's more likely that they are calling the Mayor's bluff before the deal even goes around to the nonprofits, but I don't want to make an exojesus from my own interpretation.

Oh, and about that student tax:

"I don't support that approach," Mr. Onorato said. "I don't think it's going to go through." (P-G, Dan Onorato)

Bear in mind that Onorato will be facing the voters in a matter of months instead of having just faced them months ago -- but man, what I tell you. Even Dan Onorato.

There has got to be a better way to apply leverage on the non-profits -- one that does not involve a transparent bluff that we might cut off our [redacted] to spite our face. Give it up. Surrender the battle, and live to fight the war another day.

Wednesday Open Thread

Conversation starters under "News" in sidebar.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Student Tax: Rope-A-Dope Coming? [**]

I think I may know what's going on here.

It's a pretty cynical explanation, even for me -- and if I'm wrong it will soon be obvious, but here goes:

Confronted with a $15 million budget hole, the Mayor proposed a 1% tax on tuition, quickly gathered five Council members literally to stand behind him, and together they marched forward and far out on a limb in a public relations battle against universities. "This is happening," was the message, "unless you pony up and contribute some other way."

However, the ICA rejected a city budget which included the tuition tax -- not exactly forbidding us to attempt it, but demanding that we find another way to fill the budget gap. The ICA later endorsed a number of technocratic proposals (forwarded largely by Controller Michael Lamb and Councilman Bill Peduto) to fill that gap on at least a short-term basis. Meanwhile, someone at the state level was roused to preempt our ability to enact the tax -- as opposition to it became organized on a near-national level.

The universities, though still concerned, seemed to have little cause to quake in their boots.

On Wednesday, proponents of the tax on Council delayed voting on it for one more week -- to have "conversations" with the universities. Yesterday, a day on which the Post-Gazette ran an editorial emphasizing the need for Council to come up with "another feasible plan to raise those dollars" before it "tosses the tuition tax aside", Mayor Ravenstahl appeared personally before Council to advertise his affable willingness to consider all other alternatives -- but to repeatedly term what was now happening a "Band-Aid approach" and warn of likely cuts in 2011. Finally, four and a half Council members held a secret, productive meeting with the universities, and spoke secretively about its productivity.

It is December 5. Monday will be December 7. In about three weeks -- bearing in mind the Christmas holiday -- two Council proponents of the tax will be replaced by two near college-aged members who do not have particularly strong ties to the Mayor. It is likely then that any further delay would effectively kill the tax.

Why not rush it through? Is it possible some present Council members are getting cold feet? Would Tonya Payne wish, as her grand finale on Council, to be seen leading the charge in levying a controversial tax on young people, on educational attainment -- just prior to a likely run against State Rep. Jake Wheatley? Does Ricky Burgess, a professor at CCAC, really have an appetite for taxing students and displeasing academia -- at least part of his natural constituency -- if said legislation is destined to be preempted or legally overturned?

Yet they can't surrender -- neither the Mayor nor the Councillors --because they've all marched so far from home. So instead they embark on these "productive" discussions, wherein the productivity is classified but oh-so real!

And here's the beauty part: these talks can be made to sound more and more promising for at least a couple weeks, so long as the secrecy is maintained. Then the new Council members take over, and in short order one or both of them will say something frank about their posture toward the non-profiteers and the need to compel them (not their students) somehow contribute their fair share. So the "talks" collapse, and then:

"We were so close! The Mayor's classic Council, the collaborative, politically adult Council, everything was going so well, if only we had more time! But then these new brats came along, with their combative personalities and their Bill Peduto and their denim jackets, and they ruined the whole cooperative spirit! Now it's because of them we don't have a tuition tax and we don't have an agreement with the universities, and we only have a ratty Band-Aid and there will be horrendous cuts in 2011! Oh, if only the voters were smarter, and had sent us Council members more willing to cooperate with the Mayor and his allies!"

Now I don't know what will actually happen in 2011. I suspect we will find yet another Peter to rob in order to pay Paul. And I'm not sure when the Peters' bill will come due, and when those debts will be turned over to leg-breakers. Perhaps we will find a way to skin those non-profit cats before Service Cut Armageddon, or perhaps not.

Whatever it is though, in the increasingly uncertain meanwhile, the political shift which began in 2007 and gained serious momentum in 2009 -- away from the old guard and towards self-styled reformers -- will come in for serious scapegoating. That is instead of that old guard which actually gave rise to the entirety of our sticky financial situation.

*-UPDATE: Jon Delano calls the tuition tax "stupid". (PBT, Jon Delano; portions appear to be $$)

**-UPDATE 2: Jeez, it's like he's not even reading this. THE JIG IS UP, MAN! (P-G, Rich Lord)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Disorder in the Court! 3 Wacky Tales.

Been waiting for this:

"This is not acceptable," Judge Wettick said of the plan that county officials submitted to him instead of implementing his order to conduct a reassessment of property based on a four-year timeline starting in October. (P-G, Karamagi Rujumba)



Meawhile, Mayor Ravenstahl's nominee for Solicitor faced questions from the Council today, including some concerning his current gig.

The firm is representing the S Bar on the South Side, whose owner is suing the city over an ordinance that limits the number of alcohol-serving establishments on Carson Street by setting a "saturation level," Kraus said. "I think their flagrant flaunting ... is unlike anything I've ever seen, and the law firm of Caputo & Caputo is right there front and center." (Trib, Team Effort)

Duly. Noted.


Finally, Council delayed discussion on the Student Tax for one week, so as to instead dive headlong into the Council Presidency debate.

[Mrs. Kail-Smith] said Mr. Peduto's and Mr. Shields' push for a divisive vote represents "part of the problem. We do not stand together as a body. We do not work together as a body.

"It's I, I, I, and me, me, me." (P-G, Rich Lord)

Post-Gazette: Destory the Bad Thing.

The P-G Editorial Board makes fun of local architect Rob Pfaffman's idea to creatively re-use the Civic Arena, as well as the car he drives and the way his mother dresses him.

This pie-in-the-sky plan does not rate serious consideration. (P-G, Edit Board)

A few notes:

1) The editorial's most compelling-sounding point is that the arena separates the neighborhood from Downtown. That was certainly true of its genesis, but now there is the enormous matter of the Crosstown Expressway, including its complex intersection with Bigelow Boulevard. Any "reconnection" would take a lot more that extending Wylie Ave. through where the arena presently stands and a simple traffic light. That's the fearsome challenge.

2) I get zero impression that Penguins ownership is interested in undertaking an ambitious infrastructure extension and reconnection over its developable plot of land anyway.

3) The editorial also points out that Pfaffman doesn't have developers and financing lined up; well, the Penguins and the City have only just hired their planners. It's extremely early.

4) And it doesn't give the barest nod in the direction of the merits of creative re-use for significant and unique structures in general, let alone seem to appreciate the full import of the word "creative". It just sacks the idea with maximum authority, in the name of "getting the most money" for the Sports & Exhibition Authority.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tuesday: But ... But That's Church!

Reevaluating the non-profit status of certain of UPMC's properties may or may not pay off in the end -- but refusing to refinance billions of dollars of UPMC debt sounds like just the ticket. These County Council Bucs are playing hardball and I love it. (P-G, Team Effort; Trib, Tim Puko)

Oh and speaking of which, that zoning issue is not getting any less emergent. If there's one thing I can't abide its defiant arrogance. Would UPMC violate a mayoral stop work order? Would they cross a police barrier? (P-G, Edit Board)

You know, unless they're planning on erecting an LED or putting one of their conventional billboards smack on the church building itself, I'm fine with this. (P-G, Diana Nelson Jones; Trib, Matthew Santoni)

The West Pittsburgh Partnership cannot shake its reputation for secrecy and self-dealing -- of course, a great many CDC's have those reputations, and quite deservedly -- but Councilwoman Smith is linking the acceptance of CBDG money to a presumption of transparency (I assume that would also apply to community Weed and Seed meetings!) and she is trying to foster an alternative for West End neighborhoods. (C-P, Charlie Deitch)

Monday, November 30, 2009

Universities to City: We Know Better

I was a lot more sympathetic to the universities before they started opening their mouths:

Today, the university and surrounding community enjoy a harmonious relationship, even when considering the occasional complaint about noisy students. This is in large measure because we have changed the conversation and opted to collaborate. Instead of the town viewing the university as a cash cow to offset budget deficits and the university invoking its nonprofit status, RWU and Bristol's Town Council leaders adopted a collaborative approach designed to provide resources in a strategic manner while reaffirming the university's tax-exempt status. (P-G, Dr. Roy Nirschel)

I'm sorry, I'm having trouble seeing -- the condescension in the room is so thick and painful to the eyes.

This is where I lost my lunch:

Fresh from that election we revisited the issue of a payment to the town in lieu of taxes. Instead of a head tax or monies allocated for the town's general fund, the university and town developed a memorandum of understanding that went far beyond balancing the books for that year.

The town and university identified key needs in the community, such as support for an emergency vehicle, which benefited all citizens. (ibid)

Why do non-profits think it's appropriate to pick and choose which government expenditures seem useful enough to them? Is democracy not a good enough system anymore?

I don't know about Bristol, Rhode Island, but Pittsburgh contractually owes a gazillion dollars to its pensioners, a stampillion dollars in bonded debt, and another bazookillion dollars under a consent decree for its water infrastructure. Meeting these overwhelming obligations is very much "a key need in the community" which "benefits all citizens", because it's swamping the needs of everything else and we will drown -- drown! -- unless our major economic engines chip in significantly.

Oh and by the way -- Dunkin Donuts also employs a lot of people, and provides needed pastries and coffee to a community that has trouble rousing itself the morning and attaining alertness. Yet I've never heard them ask to be treated special. That's the thing about a community -- good guys need to chip in financially, too.

The universities really would be better off letting their students do the talking for them and keeping their own mouths shut.


So here's what I'm saying today. I'm no fan of using the Student Tax to get at the university scene through a back door -- but I'm even less of a fan of Rep. Paul Costa's bill to rip that option off the table. (x-CORRECTED)

We are a City, and a Home Rule Charter city at that, and we have certain legal rights, including the right to tax privileges. That law has meaning and I would not make it obsolete. If our City representatives enact a Student Tax, the remedy for that is political, i.e., we'll take care of it ourselves. We don't need the state sticking its beak in, hopped up on campaign donations by universities and other non-profits, to weaken City autonomy. Who knows, after we truly exhaust other options, we may all agree we need that Student Tax somewhere down the road.

Secondly, we should be pursuing Councilman Burgess's raft of zoning and appraisal legislation which has the aim of compelling serious PILOTs to the general fund -- the general fund -- like its our job. Let's see a press conference with the Mayor, all nine Council members, the Controller, every one of our Judges and Magistrates, and Steely McBeam this time.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Oy Vey: Bloggers Do What Now?

The headline reads: Bloggers open the floodgate on mayor.

Read it carefully and with a skeptical eye, unlike most of Pittsburgh is currently.

First of all, everyone who uses Twitter is a blogger? In that case, Luke Ravenstahl is a blogger, Bill Peduto is a blogger, Patrick Dowd is a blogger and Arlen Specter is a blogger.

The article makes it look as though the actual local political blogs are "opening floodgates" of criticism, reveling in the Mayor's familial troubles -- which is demonstrably and honestly not the case. Indeed, it is just a few of us that are bothering to criticize aspects of how the Mayor is handling things -- which Maria does a fantastic job expressing -- but we have all been tasteful and reserved as to the separation.

I should have written this sooner: for the three years I've been at this, the blogs I've read (and I read a lot of them) have shown a tremendous amount of restraint in not ever referencing "the rumors that are out there". So have our commenters, honestly -- more than once I've marveled at how our entire online community has kept it scrupulously dignified, despite many invitations to the contrary and despite our undeserved reputation as a cesspool. On those very rare occasions when an anonymous commenter has floated something sketchy about the Mayor or about Erin, the bloggers have almost always dutifully deleted the comments, scrubbing our spaces clean.

I'm proud to say that Pittsburgh blogs concern themselves with pensions and debt, with development and infrastructure, with personnel matters rather than personal matters, and at our very worst with dot-connecting insinuations about political corruption rather than personal misfortune. The way today's article was framed (never mind that Sciullo piece), the Post-Gazette might as well cradle the Mayor in its loving arms during this trying ordeal for him.


And now, I will get this over with: rumors can be proven true, and rumors can be proven false; but rumors cannot be "proven to be just that -- rumors". That sounds like a nice last-ditch effort to sound as though one is denying a thing, when those who are paying close attention (perhaps too close) can hear clearly that one is denying nothing. Now, I'm not the Amazing Kreskin and I'm not Sherlock Holmes, but from the few facts we have been given, it sounds to me as though the split-up is very likely more his fault than -- as his public story goes -- her fault. The simplest explanation is usually best, after all.

And does that matter? Should I be writing about it? No and yes.

I'm one of those persons who believe marital drama does not matter in my politicians -- unless persons with whom he or she deals in an official capacity become part of the drama. It would be inappropriate, for example, if Mayor Ravenstahl and Guy Costa were discovered to have been having a tryst. Aside from that, I happen to subscribe to Mr. Sprague's advertised ideals on the issue. Yet I recognize that not everybody does, and that nobody has to -- and I would not presume to lecture to those people that they're obviously wrong. For the sake of the many who believe it is important, it is sadly an issue that merits some coverage and reflection by the media.

That is, it would -- in a city that did not reside somewhere between Mayberry, Pleasantville and Pyongyang.

Most importantly, however, if my view is correct and there is some truth to the rumors, it is fully symptomatic of another issue the local blogs have long been covering -- and with good cause. The jet-setting with billionaires instead of 8:30 AM meetings with residents. Commandeering a Homeland Security vehicle to go to a concert. The culture of cigars, scotch and expensive neckties given as offerings of respect. Brashly accepting tickets and admissions to high-dollar events. Setting up good friends with lucrative business deals and allowing them to elude public scrutiny. And the frequent counter-criticism, most often found through anonymous comments on the blogs, that those who are interested in advancing campaign finance reform and cleaning up government are only "jealous", "want to be the ones doing it themselves", are the "have-nots" and "wish they were the Mayor".

This has never been so much a literal "pay-to-play" culture as a "play-to-be-a-player" culture. This has never been a Mayor that has been excellent at resisting temptation. That's an undesirable quality in a leader, as we've seen many times before. This is probably just an indication that rumors of the Mayor's growth on the job have been somewhat exaggerated, if not foisted forcibly upon us from on high.

There. I opened the sluice-gates for a moment, and now they are closed. I recommend it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Dramatic Reenactment of the Creation of #ravenstahlrumors on Twitter

Still going strong.

Wednesday: Stop! [*]

The city is embroiled in another heated zoning debacle involving absent public processes and threatened lawsuits, this time involving UPMC. Bill Peduto, in whose district the activity is taking place, is up in arms. (P-G, Lord and Jones)

On the plus side, the Regional Enterprise Tower has gone solar in a big way. (Trib, Matthew Santoni)

Morgan Stanley, Morgan Stanley, give me the brandy! (P-G, Rich Lord)

I don't know how Jeremy Boren pulls quotes like these, but it's sensational. (Trib, Jeremy Boren; see also P-G, Dennis Roddey) *-UPDATE: See also P-G, Maria Sciullo.

A note on the return of comment moderation today: it's not a Sprague thing, it's a Monk thing. We're having issues. Please bear with us and we'll post comments as we get the opportunity.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Joe Hoeffel: "Pragmatic Progressive"

"Here in Southwestern Pennsylvania, we have a wonderful opportunity with natural gas extraction in the Marcellus Shale," Joe Hoeffel emphasized to a room full environmental activists at Panera Bread in Oakland.

"We should use it. It means jobs."

But that having been said, "Growing Greener is running out of money. A natural gas extraction and recovery tax could generate $100 million -- we could use that to plus-up Growing Greener, create dedicated funding for it."

Hoeffel said he was astonished to find, for example, that the state does not own mineral rights to most of its state parkland. An extraction tax could generate the resources necessary to take care of that oversight among others. These kinds of initiatives would go toward offsetting some of the unavoidable environmental ills of economic growth with enviro-benefits.

"It's a very appropriate tax."

Hoeffel boasted of having earned a 95% voting record while in Congress from the League of Conservation Voters -- and is also proud that he had a 5% remainder, to demonstrate that he's no pushover. Later, as a Montgomery County commissioner, he also fought to launch that county's Open Space program. He said it became so popular that after it expired initially, voters overwhelming reauthorized it via a referendum -- explicitly consenting to incur debt for the sake of preserving the county's open spaces.

He calls himself a "pragmatic progressive", being socially liberal and fiscally responsible -- no foe of business and industry. He is on the liberal side of issues such as reproductive choice, gay marriage, environmental support and "minority views", but fiscally moderate.

"I think most Democrats agree with that -- in fact, I think most moderate Republicans agree with that."

Asked whether the term progressive is really just a synonym for liberal, Hoeffel answered point-blank, "Pretty much. I go back and forth on that. I do object to 'liberal spender', 'tax and spend liberal'," which is why he tacks on pragmatic.

"The way I figure it, if George Bush can be a 'compassionate conservative', I can call myself a 'pragmatic progressive'."

He says he was driven to seek the Governorship when Don Cunningham dropped out of the race, and when Tom Wolf dropped out before that. Looking at the remaining candidates as a whole, he wasn't satisfied with the direction the party would have been headed.

Asked whether there was anything to the notion that a candidate in Pennsylvania needs to be socially conservative to get elected, with particular reference to abortion and Bob Casey Jr., Hoeffel answered, "I disagree with that. We probably could have run a hundred candidates to beat Santorum -- we just didn't know it. Of course, Casey probably gave us the largest percentage."

Evaluating his prospects to win the Democratic nomination, Hoeffel pointed to his strength in the vote-rich Philadelphia suburbs -- his base -- and the same logic went for the November general election. Provided that he activates enough like-minded Democrats across the state to make up the difference.

"I think neither Jack (Wagner) nor Dan (Onorato) match up as well as I against Tom Corbett -- who's very conservative," Hoeffel warned somewhat ominously.

Asked whether Pittsburghers ought to be leery at the prospect of another Philly-area politician taking control of their fortunes, Hoeffel stressed that that is the same challenge he faced as a suburban pol trying to win over urban voters from the other side of Montgomery County. He says he did win them over, which is what happens -- one becomes a representative for one's whole constituency.

In terms of being an effective governor, Hoeffel points to his success in forming a governing alliance with one of his fellow commissioners, a Republican -- to the exclusion of the third commissioner, also a Republican, which annoys some Republicans back home. He also highlit his own experience as a legislator, and his enthusiasm for working with them. "I love legislators -- I really do. I think that's one thing that was missing to an extent with our current Governor."

Dan Onorato has already made government reform a central issue, so we asked Hoeffel what he brings to the table in that regard. He said that the first bill he passed in the State House was in reaction to the last ethics scandal in Harrisburg in 1978, and it mandated 10-day prior disclosure of contributions before the elections. At the time he says, even that was "unbelievably controversial". He co-sponsored all of the ethics legislation generated during that period.

In Congress, he supported the Shays-Meehan bill providing for campaign finance reform and public financing of elections. Then back in Montgomery County, he helped to write the first Employee Handbook which provided for protection from macing, prohibitions on some employees running for office and certain forms of solicitation. Again he claimed there was intense opposition to that, particularly from County row officers who even took him to court.

The environmentalists valiantly rallied to steer the conversation back to their own turf. Asked whether there is such a thing as Clean Coal, Hoeffel answered "No -- but we ought to see, we ought to research, we ought to put some money into cleaning it up."

It was clarified to him that even if the coal emissions can be cleaned up, what happens to the groundwater is a major difficulty. Hoeffel agreed that "We're very careless in PA" about water forced down through the fracking procedure.

"Technology exists," Hoeffel claimed, to ameliorate that difficulty, "but the right plants aren't built."

When it comes to encouraging cleaner energy, he says that "It's an appropriate role for government to say, 'Utilities, you gotta buy a certain amount of wind, a certain amount of solar."

After the meeting, the assembled environmentalists gathered to evaluate his performance. It sounded to me as though they gave him about a B.

"He can be good on our issues," I was told. In their estimation he misunderstood a few points or glossed over some key difficulties with groundwater (as I'm positive I did in this blog post), and that "he could use someone on the campaign advising him" on the environment. All the same however they seemed to be in agreement that he was the most enviro-friendly candidate of the bunch by a good margin.