Friday, September 4, 2009

PowerPoint Time: Mayor Ravenstahl's Counter-Offer to State Leaders

As is our custom, sometimes we reproduce these for our audiences. This one contains 12 slides.

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl delivered the following in Council chambers to a room full of engaged citizens, which included many city workers and union leaders. The special meeting was called in rapid response to the progress of a state bill which would significantly and permanently affect the city's budget as a whole, not to mention city pensioners.

After he made this presentation, Council President Doug Shields and City Controller Michael Lamb sat down next the Mayor. Together all three attested to the gravity of the situation and plead for unity in the days and weeks ahead.

Then there was a discussion.


A sensitive poetry by Luke Ravenstahl.


This might be the most important slide right here. This was originally a bill for Philly's sales tax and Philly bookkeeping. A couple of weeks later, a statewide pensions plan of which Our Mayor was only very recently informed was stapled onto the Philadelphia measure.

This bill did not really take its trip to the sausage factory. This is raw pig.


In which the state says, "If you're only flat broke, we'll solve all your problems while letting you run most everything and keep most everything -- but if you're dead broke, we ride through town and do as we please, assuming you don't speak the language."


Well. This is where the accusations of "predatory lending" style behavior come in. House Bill 1828 is far from predatory lending, but it seems to steer the City of Pittsburgh to jump onto this plan by means of making the here and now look tempting, at the significant expense of down the road. I just think that speaks a little to how this whole thing was envisaged.

It is also true that our workforce has been making some sacrifices. Act 47 has been no picnic.


I think that the thing to take away from Slide #5 is that the City has actually been at work on this. Maybe not so much with Harrisburg (though it seems like at least some in Harrisburg may not have wanted to alert Level III Cities as to what has been going on) but among ourselves, we've been shockingly mindful. Say what you want, Lukey has not pulled a Murphy or a Masloff on our municipal pensions yet.

Can the Ravenstahl Plan work by itself? Can any parts of it be worked in to the state plan as it exists so far? Will there emerge any semblance of a third way for Pittsburgh, a way that is not totally our own yet at the same time has not sprung up out of the swamp like some kind of alien?

The next three slides go together. They describe the one-two punch!

SLIDES 6, 7, and 8:

One! Two!

Next came some bottom-line comparisons and political arguments.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Unity Thing Succeeding *

Things are looking slightly better for Pittsburgh, pensions-wise.

"My delegation is prepared to support the mayor's effort to exempt the city for the next two years," said Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill, as he and the mayor emerged from the hour-plus meeting in the City-County Building, Downtown. "What we saw was very credible information, and everybody's speaking from the same place." (P-G, Lord and Barnes)

Nice to see our champions in Harrisburg getting real exercise.

Now let's make sure everybody scrutinizes Pittsburgh's data really well, until it's well understood. It's common to make uneducated assumptions. From there, this city can hold a discreet conversation about demanding this two-year exemption from joining the statewide pensions solution while pursuing the administration's current plan -- or other options. For example, as Ravenstahl himself put it last week, "How about a revenue stream?"

*-UPDATE: Gov. Rendell warns of a possible "avalanche" of amendments (P-G, Lord and Barnes). We should be judicious, conservative and timely with what amendments we do get behind, going forward. There is "Frankel's" delegation and then there is the whole entire Greater Pittsburgh delegation, as well as other dimensions of delegations.

*-ALSO: These guys think the bill is "greased" for quick passage in Philadelphia (Trib, The Triple B's).

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Dok Harris Gets To Remain On Ballot *

So there's no avoiding this.

Judge Joseph M. James said the Harris campaign can fix the problems within five days.

Harris agreed to strike 1,475 of the 3,245 nominating signatures he submitted to get on the ballot. Candidates for mayor need to collect a minimum of 1,119 signatures, meaning Harris was left with enough valid signatures to continue. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

Independent documentary filmmaker Chris Ivey, of East of Liberty and Ravenstahl's Stumble On The Hill fame, was among those who had their Harris nomination signatures challenged -- and was actually called upon to respond during today's proceedings. Ivey has since used his Facebook account to accuse Acklin of "Bush/Cheney tactics" and advise him that "it's on."

Statements are out there from both candidacies in news articles, press releases, tweets, Facebook updates and conference calls. It will continue this way until November.

*-UPDATE: These posts may be instructive: Infinonymous, again.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Fog is Getting Thicker, and the G-20's Getting Laaaaaarger... *

First of all, Pittsburgh City Council is hosting a public hearing on the G-20 Summit as it relates to public safety, civil liberties, gas masks, protective masks, disguises, guns, launching devices, locking devices, obstruction devices, disruption devices, use-of-force guidelines and other typical Pittsburgh things tomorrow at 1:30 PM at ye olde City County Building.

Got it? Good.

Number two: remember this dude?

• 5) At its last summit, the G-20 resolved to go after global tax cheats (among other things, of course). That's why some Swiss banks are now being pressured to disclose financial information about secretive American depositors. (P-G, Mike Dillon)

Well, all right Mr. Dillon, if you say they did that, then that's a data point: The Group of Like Twenty Nations resolved to pressure some Swiss banks. I hope that goes well for them. Lots of luck taking on the conscript army, with all those funky knives.

Next I found this:

"Banks need to responsible about pay and bonuses, and one of the things that is concerning me is that when you tackle banks about this they say that if you do something here, the Americans, the Swiss or the French ... will poach our people," Darling said on BBC Radio 4's Today programme. (Guardian, Julia Kollewe)

Well, thank you very much Chancellor Alistair Darling. Try to create international standards and rules for executive compensation. I'm sure the United States will be scrambling to climb aboard that bandwagon.

You know what? These two together sound like a couple of press releases. Nothing but a lot of grandstanding and fluff against unpopular targets.

What's really at stake?

Yesterday I testified to the House Subcommittee on International Monetary Policy and Trade (part of the House Financial Services Committee). The hearing’s title was “Implications of the G-20 Leaders Summit for Low Income Countries and the Global Economy,” and the main topic was whether Congress should support an extra $100bn for the IMF that the Obama Administration agreed at the G20 summit in early April (witness list, webcast, and written testimony). (Baseline Scenario, Simon Johnson)

The International Monetary Fund! The IMF! Those old blaggards!

This is why Baseline Scenario has been on the blogroll. After much exposition, our of the Economies recommends:

For that reason, it is most important that the IMF be authorized to restore its budget to its early 2008 level (i.e., before the 15-20% across the board cuts were implemented). Cutting the budget and letting go some of the most experienced IMF staff was the unfortunate result of gross macroeconomic negligence at the level of leading industrialized countries, including the US and its G7 partners. At the same time as the IMF was warning, clearly and firmly, that a global crisis was developing, major shareholders pushed through budget cuts that resulted in some of the IMF’s best people leaving the organization.

Undoing the budget cuts would be embarrassing to leading European countries, but it should fine support from the Obama Administration – after all, it was their idea to make increasing IMF resources a central issue at the recent G20 summit. (ibid)

I have come to regard the International Monetary Fund as that big global bank that all of the wealthy countries in the world donate into to help out the poorer countries -- so long as the poorer countries let us dig for diamonds, drill for oil, and consume the forests, and stop worrying obsessively about feeding people and sheltering them. And NO WAIT -- you don't get to dig and drill for goodies yourself and sell it on the open market, you don't have the "capacity". We have partners that have done this and can help you. Let us do all this, and then we'll give you some money to fix your country up real nice and we'll loan you a lot of the rest of the money -- and if your economy does as well as we're telling you it can, then you might easily pay us back and not be in massive debt, and wind up with less money than when you had none.

I can't exactly back up where I got that impression, precisely (*-UPDATE: Now I remember where it started!). But I can pile on with similar material, which abounds:

Third, the IMF and World Bank must end policies that hinder people's access to food, clean water, shelter, health care, education and the right to organize -- the ideologically driven economic austerity or "structural adjustment" programs that include charges known as user fees for basic health care, indiscriminate privatization and prioritizing exports over production for local needs. Even small charges deter people in poor countries from using critical services. For example, introduction of small fees for a sexually transmitted disease clinic in Nairobi led to a decline in attendance of 40 percent for men and nearly two-thirds for women. Another common mandate is the privatization of water and sanitation services -- which overwhelmingly remain in the public sector in the United States -- despite evidence that privatization leads to higher charges, decreased access for the poor to clean water and the spread of disease.

Finally, the World Bank must end all support for socially and environmentally destructive projects, such as oil, mining and gas activities, and large dams. From 1992 to the present... (Washington Post, Robert Weissman)

And "the present" at the time that was written was 2001. I feel like the IMF has been keeping a low profile since then; I'm not sure if it was reforming whatever might have been wrong with it, but it did suffer budget cuts and apparently The Obama really wants to rejuvenate it. The question is should we let him.

But I do know one thing.....


G-20 Film & Forum Series

All films will be shown (for free!) at 8:00 pm at Your Inner Vagabond (4130 Butler Street, Lawrenceville). Films will be followed by discussion on topics relevant to the upcoming G-20 Summit.

9/2 Life + Debt
This documentary addresses the impact of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and current globalization policies on developing countries such as Jamaica. (Thomas Merton Center)

Jamaica, mon! Good stuff, right? And its the evening of the big public hearing! I hope there is some updated information, either in the movie or during the discussion. If it turns out we need to correct or strengthen President Obama's course in regards to major global economic institutions -- one of which he is asking taxpayers to support to the tune of $100 billion -- that is something he would expect Pittsburghers to bring to his attention.


"I'm not interested in anything other than keeping everybody safe," Mr. Ravenstahl said. "I think the dollars the state and the feds have given us will allow us to do so." (P-G, Lord and Rujumba)

That's a brilliant chord, and the right one. I hope it turns out that if the County takes a bath on this, then the City might decide to pitch in a little help from its "rainy day fund". Those are due to be some rainy days , and we can't have our County services suffering. Hopefully someone will sponsor such legislation to City Council if there is an appropriate time for that.

Finally, from Bail Out the Taxpayers and their allies in PGH:

“We’re not interested in talk about permits and troublemakers,” said Holmes. “People are suffering, they need jobs.” (Courier, Christian Morrow)

So that'll be the way it's going to be, that's all. Wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more. There will be protests in Pittsburgh in mid September, just as there are protests in lots of places at lots of different times. It'll be rad.

Monday, August 31, 2009

G-20 Costs Rising, Responsibility TBD ****

See Trib, Adam Brandolph. Also P-G. Video and analysis going up in this space eventually, but no time soon.

Suffice to say for now that Bill Peduto already fired off a letter insisting that "it is important that an agreement be created that outlines the cost sharing of any potential funding shortfalls, cost overruns, and future liabilities." Patrick Dowd similarly wrote that "we need but do not have a written memorandum of understanding between the City and County" and asked for "clarity". Council President Doug Shields mentioned that Pittsburgh is already forging and signing cooperation agreements with other municipalities and governments for the G-20 -- just not the big one, so to speak.

Matt Drozd suggested that Dan Onorato make up for any funding gap from his own campaign treasury.

*-UPDATE: These look to have been tweeted sometime after 6 PM:

...and here are the video reports at WTAE and WPXI

When Mayor Luke says he doesn't see a gap, does that mean he sees that the City is set and the County is simply on the hook for their services? Remember that Pittsburgh has its own diplomatic tracks and channels with Washington, and its own accounts receivable.

**-UPDATE, THE DEUX: Briem seems like he's on the right track.

***-UPDATE 3: Looks like the City has its deal together. (P-G, Rich Lord)

****-UPDATE 4: You don't see this every day:

That's great, but in regards to Allegheny County I wonder if we won't encounter the old "what goes around, comes around". We'll span that bridge when we come to it.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Harrisburg: You've Got To Slow Down, Man.

I'm not talking about your budget, obviously. I'm talking about the municipal pensions crisis. So it's a little backwards.

State budget: all you have to do is decide on a number. Pensions: it's considerably more complex. You're going to jerk it up entirely if it's done fast and not right.

"Absolutely," Nutter said when asked whether he would like the House, if approved by the Senate, to take up the bill and make no changes.

"I would certainly hope the House would not make any changes primarily because of timing issues," Nutter said. (Trib, Brad Bumstead)

I'm glad things are working out well for Philadelphia, and I trust things are working out well for Philadelphia in a way that does not actually hamper the effort in the rest of the state

However, this is all new to Pittsburgh -- and no doubt to some of the rest of the municipalities as well. How many have seen the real numbers?

(Yes, I know, I know. We've all made bad choices for too long. It's embarrassing. Pittsburgh should have fixed this in the 1990's. We all could have fixed this sometime this millennium. We in particular might have worked on this more over the past three years. So thank you for taking this on, state government leaders who never get enough credit, and thank you Philly for your involvement, but seriously -- you need to slow down and incorporate some feedback -- not all feedback, but SURELY SOME OF IT -- from the actual Pennsylvania cities that are going to be most significantly affected. Because it will affect plenty of them BADLY WHEN THE BILL COMES DUE, and quite by surprise, and you will have another gnarly outrage on your hands, with nothing to defend you except...)

Mayor Michael Nutter wants the legislation to be approved without House changes so that city can begin collecting an extra 1 percent sales tax to help fund its pension system. Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, a former Philadelphia mayor, is backing Nutter's effort. (Trib, Bumstead and Brandolph)

Ha ha ha, sorry no. Lay down the sack with the dollar bill on it.

No, Mayor Nutter, we are going to pass a good bill instead, a strong and sustainable pensions strategy -- now that we're all caught up on where you and key state leaders have been at.

From what I understand, H.B. 1828 passed the Senate and is holed up in the House "Rules Committee". Very good. How about a month or two? Time to craft some friendly amendments, that are up to speed, and save this initiative from being a total albatross for wide swaths of Pennsylvania. Let's get it done right, and get it done in 2009 -- but not at full ramming speed.