Thursday, December 27, 2007

And just like that ...

Right, since I am on vacation myself this week, I didn’t know the instant it happened that UPMC dropped their call for a tax credit (or something) from City Council in exchange for their donation to the Pittsburgh Promise. They probably felt the tax credit request was stirring up too much trouble. There was an opinion piece on Monday in the PG from Martin Gaynor of CMU that I was gearing up to respond to (c’mon, Gaynor is in a professorship donated by a former CEO of what is now Highmark, how ironic can you get …). Gaynor made the (vaguely worded) claim that UPMC was launching some elaborate scheme designed solely to benefit itself. But UPMC has dropped it all, although they do say that if they run a deficit any particular year, they should be let off the hook for the PP. Also UPMC is standing by the tax credit agreement the school board made with them. They are also making the mil and a half contribution for this year, at least, to the Pittsburgh Service Fund – the non-profit’s pot of money given directly to the city.

I’ve come to believe that UPMC did have a subtle agenda, but its target was not the city or the state legislature, rather it is the state insurance commissioner. Currently we have an acting commissioner, and given that state senate is republican controlled, th-our governor may not want to spend political capital to get someone acceptable to the republicans and risk offending his own party. Especially since Rendell is trying to shepherd through legislation on a state malpractice fund in surplus, and what to do with that surplus. Now is the perfect time for UPMC to have a low profile statewide, or at least a low negative profile. We tend to forget that UPMC is both a health care provider and a health insurance provider. As such, it is likely to get even closer scrutiny from the state insurance commissioner, especially if it runs a 600 million dollar profit; er, ... surplus; sorry, ... excess margin. To be perfectly honest, I am not sure whether the health insurance wing or the hospital part ran the surplus, or if they did together. Regardles, UPMC probably felt it had to make a grand charitable gesture to engender goodwill, and make the state insurance commissioner seem like Scrooge if he complained about UPMC’s excess margin.

I don’t think UPMC cared that much about getting a double tax credit (from the city and the school board), although I’m sure they felt it would have been nice. But I guess their assessment of the problems it might cause, and the likelihood it could cause lawsuits to arise, changed rapidly from last Monday to today. I think UPMC got what is wanted, though. There is still some hypothetical tax-incentive for other non-profits to donate, including Highmark (with its own large excess margin of over 300 million in 2005 and almost 3 billion in reserves. The trick for UPMC is to get non-profits (or anyone else) to contribute after next year, to trigger UPMC’s matching grants. If Highmark kicks in a million and a half dollars each year, after this next year, UPMC will match with its own million dollar contribution. The Pittsburgh Promise will benefit, and UPMC will be winning a strategic war, getting Highmark to put more money into this charity than UPMC does. Since everybody could get the same tax credit, and at least UPMC is assured of getting the tax credit, that is a small but essentially positive factor. In fact, UPMC is probably counting on everyone claiming the credit, giving it as their incentive to donate to the PP.

So UPMC has essentially won a tactical battle, having magnanimously given up their request/demand for the tax credit from the city. There had been some suggestion that non-profits should kick in some property tax dollars during the election, but mostly in terms of “wouldn’t it be nice”. UPMC had raised its own talk about that this past Monday, people wondering if a state senator or representative had tipped UPMC off or something. Mostly, though, I think UPMC was doing its own maneuvering to give future donors to the PP some incentive. In that regard its hard to see them as anything but successful.

I want to say something about the death of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan. Pakistan has been something of a nightmare for us for years, all the way back to the eighties, when I guess we turned to them as our non-arab ally in the region. they are nuclear armed and seemignly a short step from becoming another terrorist-controlled state. As it is, we can't get to Osama Bin Laden, whom is believed to be in Pakistan. As allies, they have been a problem. So we apparently pinned our hopes on Bhutto, and surprise, now she is dead. We are saps, and dangerous ones at that.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Alternative absolution...

In the interest of maintaining this reputation for “fair and balanced” opinions I am occasionally told I have, I feel the need to say that all liberals are commie weenies. Whew, glad I got that out …wait what no that’s not what I wanted to say at all …

I have to say that there is another way to look at the supposed antics of Our Mayor (his new preferred form of address) with regard to the Pittsburgh Promise. He has said he knew about the broad outlines of the UPMC contribution to the plan as long ago as six months (suspiciously around the time of the Mario Lemieux Invitational Golf Boondoggle). He also said he knew more specifics three months ago, just in time not to be able to answer specific questions about the Pittsburgh Promise and the contributions non-profits make to the city accurately during the debates. By the way, I characterized this as lying to the voters, perhaps that was a bit harsh, although I’m not sure how th-Our Mayor would suggest it be framed. But however you describe it, Outted Mayor … I mean Our Mayor did not give details with (what he describes as) the best of intentions – because UPMC told him not to release those details, presumably until December 5th. I believe th-Our Mayor suggested UPMC would have pulled their donation if he had spilled the beans early, although that stretches the bounds of credibility. Stiil, the question is, what did those interim specifics consist of? It’s possible they did not include UPMC’s request for a future tax credit on hypothetical (state legislature generated) taxes on non-profits. It’s just as possible that Jeffrey Romoff called th-Our Mayor and Roosevelt over to his place on Sunday and told them UPMC was going to make this demand, tax credits one for one on the future UPMC donations to the PP from both the city and the school board. Th-Our Mayor could be entirely blameless (this time) in terms of revealing the truth to the citizens of Pittsburgh. There is, literally, no way to know short of getting (time stamped) internal documents from UPMC or the Mayor’s office showing that, probably emails. But even without this “evidence”, I think its important to consider all the possibilities. Th-Our Mayor may have turned over a new leaf, and be trying to provide his constituency with the best governance he can. At an affordable price. I hope.

By the way, I wanted to repeat an idea I raised in my response to Char’s comment on my previous post. I suggested other non-profits, such as Highmark or Pitt or CMU, might want to try donating to the Pittsburgh Promise after next year on the off chance the state legislature might create a tax on non-profits after next year. If the legislature decided to make the tax effective the year they passed it, then these non-profits might greatly reduce their expose, by possibly taking advantage of UPMC’s deal, and avoiding both city and school board taxes. Such action by other nonprofits would greatly increase UPMC’s matching gift in the future, for the next nine years. Possibly all the non-profits in the city would do this, or perhaps many would not. But all that did would be doing the city a fair service, with UPMC’s dollar match on their dollar fifty.

And for those people who wonder why the legislature might even consider such a tax, I suggest that the issue of how poorly Act 47 addresses the long term problems of the city was raised in the last election. Our Mayor largely ignored those questions, but DeSantis raised them at least obliquely, and some blogs have talked about them. I think they got into some newspaper stories too, but those stories stopped showing up once it was clear the debates were going to be fluff pieces. The legislature could raise (yet another) special tax just for distressed cities, one on non-profits. It could be payroll, property or the legislature could just tax donations to non-profits. The tax could be used to apply specifically to long term issues, or it could just go into the legislature’s bonus fund. Personally I don’t think its going to happen soon, but if the city stays in Act 47 for another couple of years, and slips back into deficit, the legislature might start to get tired of us, and punish us by hurting our non profits.

Friday, December 21, 2007

How much in tax savings?

So no one will confirm this to me, and I always mis-trust things that seem to be simple math. Plus we are talking about hypothetical, future dollars that are in fact likely never to be an issue. Still ...

UPMC put a tax agreement related to the Pittsburgh Promise in front of the school board a couple of days ago, which it immediately passed.It is apparently similar to the one currently in front of city council. Of course these agreements give UPMC a dollar for dollar tax credit (on future, hypothetical taxes on non-profits from the state legislature). I do not know of any current dollars UPMC gives to the school system, by the way. Since both the school board and the city have been asked for these (hypothetical, future) tax credits, that means (to me) that UPMC's PP dollars will do double duty, one dollar of donation counting for one dollar of taxes in two places. It's not like the city will lose two dollars of tax (nor the school board), but UPMC is saving itself twice as much tax money.

A couple of observations. I noticed, second hand, that Robert Cindirch, the UPMC lawyer (and former federal judge), claimed not to know anything about the city agreement. Cindrich said something about reducing Pittsburgh Promise donations by the amount of future tax liabilities, the opposite of the written agreement (could we have Judge Cindrich's proposal in writing? I thought not). George Specter said he also knew nothing about the UPMC tax resolution, but that's not as surprising.
And starting next year, the money UPMC donates will be dependent on other donations. If there was a tax on non-profits, UPMC would have no control over how tax it could save.

No matter what, by the way, the city has lost the million and a half UPMC would have donated to the Pittsburgh Service Fund (or whatever it's called). I believe UPMC says the donation to the PP will take the place of the donation to the PSF. (c'mon, you guys could spare another million and a half...please?)

The Post-Gazette thinks that council should agree to the conditions, and I tend to agree. Maybe the agreements won't stand up in court, or (more likely) the state legislature won't try to tax non-profits. In fact, these agreements might influence the legislature, might cause them to set this issue aside in favor of finding more ways to get themselves more bonuses. Or the Act 47/ICA teams will simply nulify the city's agreement with UPMC, say it doesn't have the authority to do it. At the end of the day, I can't help but say more power to UPMC. They took a small risk in trying to avoid some future taxes, and if they can get away with it, I think city council should let them. If taxes on non-profits come down the pike, the city will still have more money than before, anda flagship scholarship program.

I still say ten thousand dollars is not enough for Ethics Board to investigate this Mayor.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Mayor admits ....

From the Busman’s Holiday’s post on the Mayor’s statement concerning UPMC, the Pittsburgh Promise and City Council:

“The two biggest questions I got asked when I was running for office was, non-profits don't give enough, and you failed on the Pittsburgh Promise. And guess what, I had the answer to those questions in those debates, but I kept my mouth shut. Because I didn't want to jeopardize this program, just like council did yesterday with their actions.”

Actually, Mr. Mayor, you did more than keep your mouth shut. When Dr. DeSantis proposed using the voluntary contributions from non-profits to increase the funding level of the city’s pensions or pay down our debt, you asked Dr. Desantis how he would make up the budget shortfall. You knew then you were going to do the same thing, reduce the city’s revenue to the tune of a million and a half, and now you stand here today and say you kept your mouth shut? You intentionally misled the voters. And you are hiding behind UPMC, saying you keep your mouth shut for their benefit, even though in fact you did much more than keep your mouth shut.

Its actually incredible, we find ourselves right back at January 2007, with the Mayor lying and blaming everyone else. He keeps telling us, month after month, that he has learned so much, and then he turns around and pulls another stunt, tells city council it must do his bidding without question or hesitation. Mind you, someone like Doug Shields doesn’t make council look any too good either, but the Mayor has to bear the bulk of the blame for this one. If he had announced the tax and voluntary contribution component of UPMC’s Pittsburgh Promise donation on December fifth, and asked council to hold hearings shortly and consider the package within a couple of weeks, people might have decided (calmly and deliberately) that 10 million in scholarship dollars is worth the tax or contribution hit the city and school board would take. But to take up the issue on December 17th and demand quick passage of the tax credit resolution guarantees that people will balk.

Ten grand is not going to be enough for the Ethics Board.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The other, other shoe ...

I think it is possible to be of two minds on this UPMC Pittsburgh Promise/Pittsburgh Service Fund thing. On the one hand, we are talking about 10 million dollars this year for the Pittsburgh Promise. That will be a very good start for the program. The whole amount will probably not be used by 2008 graduates, so the remainder can generate interest for future years. By comparison, the million and a half the city is giving up is only a small part of the budget, which is in surplus anyway this next year and for a few years to come. The lack of the million and a half will accelerate the coming shortfall, but it would come anyway. And the city’s pension shortfall and other debt dwarf the million and a half; UPMC would have to start kicking in its entire “excess margin” to make much of a difference there.

The Pittsburgh Promise program could have a very beneficial effect on the city as well. If the students police themselves, control their behavior issues with an eye towards getting a college education and a way out of poverty, a lot of the problems in the city’s schools will go away. It may increase parental involvement in the schools as well. I realize I am implying that only poor kids have behavior problems, and I’m sure that’s not the case. But it may be that schools in poorer neighborhoods have more problems because the students don’t feel like they have much of a future, and rich kids who do have behavior problems have better access to treatment and tend to get passed along as merely “eccentric” anyway. If the Pittsburgh Promise succeeds it may not replace the million and a half lost to the city, but people may feel a bit better about the city.

On the other hand, it is possible to conceive a scenario where the Mayor and the School Superintendent had prematurely announced a program last December, were handed an incredible gift by UPMC (possibly at the Mario Invitational), sat on the details during the election and even through the announcement of the gift five weeks after the election. Now the messy details come out as council is set to adjourn for the year, and the Mayor tries to ram UPMC’s conditions through council. The Mayor had stated that he did not give UPMC or the Pens anything in exchange for the admission to play golf with Joe Theismann and Sidney Crosby. In fact, he suggested he was having business meetings while playing golf. Because this Mayor has lied to the press and reacted hostilely to their questions in the past, it is not hard to believe e could be concealing information in this case. He may have known the whole details of UPMC’s intention to donate up to a hundred million and the conditions attached since June, and this young Mayor may have been so dazzled by the size of the donation that he was distracted from what he was committing the city to give up.

Did this Mayor know, in August, when he talked to the Ethics Board, about UPMC’s gift to the PP, and its included conditions, that let UPMC off the hook if the State Legislature passes legislation taxing non-profits? Did the Mayor know about UPMC’s gift and its conditions when he asked Mark DeSantis, in the debates, how he would replace lost revenue if the Pittsburgh Service Fund was used to pay down debt and/or fund the pension fund to a higher level? Apparently, by agreeing initially to UPMC’s conditions with no open debate or public comment, the Mayor has placed City Council in the position of dashing the hopes of hundreds or thousands of High School Seniors or helping to expedite the financial ruin of the city.

Speaking of which, a commenter on the Burgh Report asked whether the Act 47 team should reopen the budget process. I believe it was the ICA team that signed off on the budget, or possibly both, but it is a good question. Maybe the ICA should come forward and make public the consequences of this situation. At least Luke can take his place among the people who got us into this mess.

The issue of why UPMC is pressing to be absolved from having to pay taxes in the future is a bit puzzling. Is there bipartisan support in the legislature for such a law? Is the support strong enough a bill is imminent? Maybe UPMC figures the only reason to pass such a law would be to help the states two largest (and struggling) cities, and if Pittsburgh say it doesn’t need tax revenue from its largest non-profit, the reason to pass such a bill would go away. I wonder if such a resolution would be legal, apparently UPMC thinks so (and I suspect their legal advice is really good).

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The other shoe ...

Despite the posting date of Tuesday, it took a full day of editing to get this actually onto the blog.

I wanted to post on the KD/PG Sunday Edition of a week and two days ago, about gun control. The guy from Butler county basically said to David Shribman, if you don’t understand what’s wrong with limiting handgun sales to one a month, I can’t explain it to you. Kind of a perfect Catch 22.

But then the Mayor had to raise the specter of the Mario Invitational, which he was invited to by UPMC and the Penguins. First, the Mayor has started to say he will give no cash to CDC’s on the Hill, only buildings. Specifically he is advocating a grocery store, a community center and some kind of YMCA. But no cash. This is the old argument against providing cash to the poor, instead advocating food coupons (food stamps) and housing assistance. If you give the poor money, they will spend it on alcohol and drugs. We don’t want them to do that with our money (we can’t control what they do with their money), so we put the assistance in a form that pleases voters. Not just food assistance, specific boring food assistance (no junk food). Not just housing, specific modern projects in their neighborhoods. I guess Luke figures he has the black vote sewed up, and can afford risking pissing them off in order to pander to some of the white vote.

Second, there was this business with UPMC and the Pittsburgh Promise. The Mayor wants to count UPMC’s donation to the PP as a tax credit. Of course, since UPMC pays no property tax now, that’s actually just a smoke screen. (Actually, UPMC does apparently pay some property taxes through its affiliates, but that won’t stop as a result of this donation, so that’s not a concern) But the donation also covers payments made in lieu of taxes, the Pittsburgh Service Partnership something or other. You may remember that during the campaign the Mayor made a big deal about how necessary this fund if to balance the city’s (shaky) finances. Mark DeSantis had proposed using non-profit contributions to specifically pay down the city’s debt and pay up the City’s under funded pensions. The Mayor asked which city services would DeSantis cut, because the city needs every dollar. (Of course, the Mayor waited until after the election to buy himself a new SUV on the city’s dime) Now the city is down a million and a half dollar. Which services will you cut, Mr Mayor.

So the city will have lost a million and a half, probably each year for the next few. Bill Peduto is still offering dire warnings about the city’s finances, but he did manage to get the Ethics Board ten grand, to pay for legal fees and whatever else. I wonder if the Ethics Board will reopen the issue of the Mayor and the Mario Invitational. No quid pro quo, the Mayor said in September. No deals with UPMC or the Pens. I don’t think ten grand is going to be enough.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Sic transit Gloria, or Laura Brannigan, or sumpin' ...

Another topic I have been thinking about recently is Public Transit. You may remember back at the end of last year and the early part of this year, the buzz was all about PAT’s proposal to drop 25% of its routes, unless it got more money. This was accompanied by a threat to raise fares at the beginning of next year (2008), ditto ditto more money. I sent a letter to the Port Authority through their public comment mechanism, and I emailed my State Senator (Ferlo) and State Rep (Lisa Bennington). By the way, both replied, and reflecting the fact that both have districts that extend far into the boonies/hinterlands, both complained about overpaid managers and drivers and years of mis-management. In fact, both wanted to see PAT “Right-size” itself, which I suppose means stopping service to the very poor, who are not in their districts and don’t vote much anyway. So much for reformers and populists.

So, of course, PAT did cut itself back 15%, although surprisingly it did not cut the 28X as threatened (I missed the explanation for how that changed, although I am sure there is one, released to the media very quietly). And a fare hike for January suddenly appeared last month, with no public comment period this time (I guess PAT learned its lesson there). This happened even though PAT is due to get new, additional funding from both the State and the County. I had sort of thought the point was that PAT would only increase fares and cut routes if it didn’t get enough funding. I guess the all Allegheny County-appointed board of directors of PAT might have heard the strident complaints from state legislators from far away places like Scranton or York (or places with towns too small to remember). Which is, of course, the point. PAT’s board of directors needs to prove to state legislature that they are just as or more responsive to the concerns of a citizen and (more important) a representative or senator from clear across the state. The Port Authority board, which lives in Allegheny County, is not affected by the fact they live in Allegheny County. The important thing is how people in Wyoming, or Potter, or Lycoming Montour County feel. Because otherwise the state legislature will take its magic club (wands are too prissy) and decide to appoint half of PAT’s board. Probably not with Allegheny County residents.

This also explains why Dan Onorato has declared the drivers’ and mechanics’ union bad guys. Which is the other piece of this. In a complicated, cascading house of cards, the extra money the state legislature found for PAT is based on a tolling arrangement on I-80, plus some raised toll rates on 76. That was passed by the state legislature, but is by no means a done deal since the Feds think they have a say in what happens on Federal highways. A couple of (republican) US representatives from that part of the state have started whining to the US Department of Transportation, and the Federal Highway is looking at it. By the way, the plan is apparently to only have a few toll booths, at places where out of state trucks tend to exit the highway (such as the Ohio and New York borders on I-80). I guess if a Pennsylvania resident should get a toll ticket from a toll booth, they will not have to pay a toll as long as they exit I-80 at a non toll exit. I guess the idea is out of state truckers would never do that.

Even though the money for PAT may not materialize, the state legislature went ahead put conditions on it. The county had to raise an additional amount of its own for PAT. After all, county citizens are the ones who benefit from public transportation, why shouldn’t they contribute (I think that is actually a quite valid point, one of the few in this sorry saga). Onorato is playing his property tax games, keeping it static so it benefits his aging voter base, so an increase in the property tax rate is out. In fact, Onorato has already planned to lay off a couple of hundred county workers to demonstrate his fiscal responsibility (only in Pennsylvania would a democrat do something like that). What to do, what to do … Fortunately our friends in the state legislature had the solution. Philadelphia has had a drink tax for a few years, so why not Pittsburgh? Of course, it will have to pass the county council, but if they want to be seen raising taxes on their own citizens, so much the better (at least I assume the state legislature doesn’t actually like the state's two largest cities). But the story doesn’t end there. Whether Onorato or someone on PAT’s board or management thought of it, the drivers are still the highest paid in the US (adjusted for regional conditions), the managers and secretaries having been forced into give backs last year or before. So Onorato gets the bright idea that he will hold up the state funding and the drink tax money (plus a $2 a day rental car fee from our one visitor a year) until the drivers union agrees to a wage freeze (which is to last only until Hell also freezes) and to contribute to their own health care. I think retiree benefits are on the chopping block too. This is a clever move, it satisfies people in Lycoming Montour county, if the state doesn’t have to give us the transit money they will gladly use it for bonuses for themselves, it makes the drivers union the bad guys and no one of consequence gets hurt (only nursing home aides, low paid retail staff, waitresses, bus boys and dishwashers, you know, the sort of people who would buy a car if they had any consideration for the rest of us). In retrospect, maybe it was a good idea for PAT to make the moves it has, with the route cuts and the fare hike. At some point, the state may tell us we are now getting (phantom) money from (still hung up in hearings) toll roads and the county may tell us we are getting (phantom) revenues from (uncollectible) taxes on (scofflaw) bars. Around about the time this gets sorted out (the casino will be halfway built at that point), PAT will announce it is out of money again, having bought everyone in the county a Segway.

Yeah, I know, lame ending.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Laziness incarnate ...

Well, I continue to be spectacularly lazy about posting. The short reason is that the results of the election took a lot of the wind out of my sails. Not that they weren’t unexpected, but I was dismayed to see that so many of my fellow Pittsburghers were willing to place party over a good resume.

The longer reason is that I am also trying to do some of the things I wasn’t during the campaign, like get away on a weekend (and not post from the Bed and Breakfast), read books (instead of posting from the B & B) and get sick (while away at the B & B). I seem to have picked up some sort of eye (tear duct) infection, and I am not sure whether I should stay home or not. I start out fine, but as the day wears on my left eye starts tearing and then gets sore. Ah well, let’s hear it for Presenteeism.

There are lots of things out there well worth talking about, including the newly funded Pittsburgh Promise. Matt H asked where all the nay-sayers are now, and I would like to respond. I think the naysayers did not object in principle or theory to the idea of the Pittsburgh Promise. They objected to announcing an ambitious program before funding was in place. I gather someone was going to leak the news of the program and that’s why Roosevelt and Ravenstahl made the announcement, or at least that is their story. Even if that is true, how long where R & R going to sit on the PP before announcing it? The funding has come literally a year later.

And it came a month after the election. Does anyone wonder what that means? When did UPMC decide to make this donation? Was it truly after the election that they realized they had extra money and needed to do something with it? I find the timing interesting. I don’t think UPMC had some ulterior motive, like denying Ravenstahl the bump that would have come with having a funded Pittsburgh Promise. In fact, my guess is that UPMC had decided some time ago (in the summer, at the Lemiuex thing?) to make the donation, but wanted to avoid being seen as trying to influence the election.

The only thing we know for sure is that UPMC now has a bulletproof argument for avoiding any further Payments In Lieu Of Taxes, or any paying any property taxes. Of course, the state legislature could ignore those arguments and do what it wants to UPMC and Highmark, but the city and the county have lost a lot of leverage. Let’s hope it is worth it.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

More on Act 47 an' N'at

I don’t watch City Council on the TV as a rule, mostly because a) I don’t know when the interesting (or any) programming is on and b) because watching in the evening would mean convincing the wife and step-daughter that City Council is actually interesting compared to the Korean melodramas I have occasionally caught recently (Air City?). But I did catch a repeat of *the* recent significant hearing, the one where Shields introduced his request to Yablonsky (the state Secretary of Community and Economic Development) to a) have the city taken off Act 47 status or b) explain why not (or what we should do to get there). What was so interesting about this was to hear Shields give his reasons for thinking that the city could exit Act 47, and then later to hear Doug Peduto’s take on the issue. Frankly, I trust neither man, but watching each speak to their constituencies in a planned and carefully orchestrated fashion was really quite interesting and educational.

So Shields talked about what was in an old Act 47 document about exiting the distressed city status. I couldn’t find the particular document he referred to (on the city's website), and I can only remember one of the three conditions he listed for terminating Act 47 status, that of having a balanced city budget. I do remember that Shields pointed there is nothing in the Act 47 document he was reading about long term debt. Shields added that he viewed the municipal debt and the pension shortfalls as similar to a mortgage. Banks never call in the mortgage to be paid all at once, so as long as the city is making payments, it is doing exactly what it should be and in the long run all will be well. What Shields was saying is if Act 47 did mention long term debt, Pittsburghers might expect the state to help the city address these issues. Now, to be fair, the 240 page Act 47 document I could find on the city’s website, the one prepared by Eckert Seamans in 2003, does mention the city’s long term debt. On the other hand it also mentions a $145 Occupational Privilege tax, the thing we know as the $52 tax. So it obviously does not reflect a current or final official position.

Which brings us to another thing Doug Shields said at this hearing. He noted that Act 47 had envisioned a lot more or at least larger sources of revenue for the city. Specifically property taxes were supposed to go up by an estimated five percent a year; instead they have not gone up any since (I believe) 2002. Casino revenues, figuring in the Act 47 projections, have not materialized. And the contribution by non-profits has been smaller than projected in the Act 47 document. So the city has achieved its balanced budget in spite of the overly optimistic projections contained in the Act 47 report.

Peduto’s response to Shields was equally interesting. He planned to send his own, independent letter to Yablonsky, and ask specifically about things like long term debt. He was also worried about the coming shortfall the Mayor had projected in 2010. By contrast, Shields made of point of saying early that we can’t really know about the future, if you look how differently things have turned out in 2007 versus what was projected in 2004, you can see how little we really can say about 2010 (according to Shields).

While Shields was talking purely to make political points, it seems likely he was exposed a short term orientation to Act 47 that isn’t really good for the city. We really need the governor to step up here and tell Pittsburgh that it needs to get it’s long term issues resolved. That expecting the state to fix our pensions and debt issues is essentially a cop out.

So maybe some good will come out of this City Council resolution. Maybe Yablonsky will come back with some longer term issues the City needs to resolve before exiting Act 47. And Council might be spurred to action when Yablonsky gets back to us.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Act 47 and n'at

Char had a post about how Doug Shields is joining the movement to get us out from under Act 47 status. Which is interesting because it dovetails well with apost on 414 Grant Street about what the Act 47 legislation and the ICA actually do. Just to rehash building’s post a bit, Act 47 status changes the nature of binding arbitration with the police and fire unions, requiring the arbitrator to take the city’s financial status into consideration (where (s)he doesn’t without Act 47). Building describes ICA as the legislature’s eyes on the city’s finances. Now Jim Ferlo has apparently lobbied to have the ICA board removed, but our city officials such as the Mayor and now the Council President have asked to have Act 47 status rescinded. With Act 47 gone, the city would lose control over certain taxes like the parking tax, but I suppose it could just double the earned income tax or something. I tried to raise the alarm about the ICA, that it had signed off on the Mayor’s budget with its projected deficits out four years. I think it might be of benefit to the city if the ICA team went away, right now they seem to exist to encourage the Mayor to take the city down the wrong path. And if you look at Jane Orie's treatment of the Mayor when he was in Harrisburg to discuss the Parking Tax issue, you see she is only interested in controlling, if not throttling, Pittsburgh. But Act 47 status still seems to be a good thing right now. It’s like that metal bar the little cars ride at that Turnpike ride at Kennywood. We can’t stray too far off the road as long as we are in Act 47 status.

I think I might rehash the election just a bit more (Schultz, look away!). I saw the end of “Twelve Angry Men” the other day, one of my 10 or so favorite movies. I think that I, and maybe some of the other nearly 24,000 that voted for DeSantis, might have hoped the election would go something like that movie. The scenario starts with the primary, where Luke was the only choice on the democratic side, but that’s ok because he is the anointed successor to Bob O’Connor and the democrat is always the right choice for Pittsburgh, right? But maybe a few people would meet and talk to the republican, and he would talk about some ideas for dealing with the city’s fiscal problems, not ideas you would want to contemplate in normal times, but these are not normal times. And those people would get out and talk to others. And the republican would clearly spell out his ideas in the debates and even more people would wonder and think, does the democrat have plans like these? You know how the movie goes, the prosecution’s case is thrown into doubt because of quirks the witnesses had. Not dis-proven, just shaken to the point of a reasonable doubt. So too, if people had looked at the ideas Mark DeSantis presented, and then compared them to the vacuum that is Luke Ravenstahl, I think they might have been persuaded that trying something is better than doing nothing when the city is in bad shape.

As it turned out, voters had to work too hard to find out Desantis’ ideas. His sound bites on the TV news (and there were a lot of them) were inevitably about the Mayor’s latest ethical mistake, not DeSantis' policies. Policies did appear on his website, outlines of full blown ideas, but they would be replaced by new press releases and essentially disappear. And this is all besides DeSantis' only average debate performances and his late start to the campaign.

It might,... it should have been like “Twelve Angry Men”. Except that elections aren’t won by the side with the better policies. Read The Political Brain by Drew Westen.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Trying to move on ...

I was going to post again about the election, but honestly there’s little point. I recommend the book “The Political Brain” by Drew Westen. If you read it, you may see where some of my posts are coming from.

Early Returns reported way back on November 8th about a possible change in the Mayor’s ride. They talked about how the Mayor’s black Impala had some dents and in fact had been involved in a fender-bender that had bent the hood a couple of days before the election (as first reported on the Burgh Report). ER was at pains to stress the Mayor was not even in the car when it had its accident, for what it is worth. But now there is a Burgundy Ford Explorer that seems to have taken the Impala's place. ER could not confirm that it is assigned to the Mayor, but it was in his parking space. Back in October I was trying to put a positive face on the Homeland Security Tahoe scandal and suggested the Mayor request a Ford Escape hybrid. It would have set such a good example for the city, and in fact could have been ordered as the first in a vehicle fleet. Instead … well, possibly the Explorer is a temporary vehicle while the fate of the Impala is decided. Or at worst, maybe the Explorer could be exchanged for a hybrid Escape.

There have been a few blog posts about the Allegheny Conference, mainly reacting to a negative Trib article about them. I had taken a look at the Allegheny Conference website through somebody's link about a week ago and found everything had a copyright date of 2006, with no reports newer than 2005. Well, I looked just now and all of a sudden everything is 2007. Except that when I hit the news headline archive link, it goes … no where. Well, apart from that, what a difference an annual meeting makes.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What I did the day after ...

I’ve been standing back from blogging some after the election (obviously). I had a sister-in-law in last weekend and a different sister-in-law in before that (Janet, who comments on the last debate I mentioned).

I did something relatively obnoxious the day after the election, which I suspect was not caught by my two or three regular readers (not counting the scores of undergrads looking for easy information on “Cognitive Dissonance” who hit here often). Early Returns, the PG’s online blog/gossip pages, had linked to some blogs after the elections, to take the temperature of the Burghosphere (or, as I like to put it, the Burghospree) regarding the election. I checked out the listings and saw one blog I didn’t recognize, with a decidedly pro-Luke type message. Now, that should of set off alarum bells in my head, or at least I should have let well enough alone since the election was (and is) over. But I went over to ”Say Whaaat”, a blog written by a young woman named “KT” who happens to work in HR somewhere, and is, for intents and purposes, apparently a perfectly nice person. She also happened to vote for Luke. In fairness, she wrote a post in July asking her readers who they thought she should vote for. Of course, in July Mark DeSantis had not started his campaign, would not start it until early September, would not release his fiscal plans for a couple of weeks after that, the bare minimum of detail about the Mayor’s 5 year fiscal projection would not be made public for a couple of weeks after that (with the projected deficits), etc etc. As far as I know, my blog might have been the only one to carp on the projected deficits out four years and beyond, and Bob Mayo is the only reporter who asked about it in a debate (a question the Mayor obfuscated, talking about how the ICA had approved his budget). Of course, the issue did get a paragraph or two in one story in the PG. The point being that KT would have had to have been particularly diligent to even catch any of that. Anyway, if you use the above link you will see I responded to KT’s post with a long comment, with a couple of admitted snarky bits in there. Her response to my comment was disappointing but hardly surprising; she ignored the long boring bits and snarked right back at my snarky comments. I did post back basically apologizing (after all, I was a guest on her blog), and she did much the same, along with a comment about agreeing to disagree, politics being what it is. By the way, in fairness to me, I didn’t expect Early Returns to link to such a non-political blog.

The day after the election Morton Coleman said “The campaign, which featured discussion of topics as divergent as ethics rules and pension funding, "was an educational process," Mr. Coleman said. "I don't think we've had that in a long time in a November mayoral campaign."”. That comment actually raises questions. One question is whether that education should have directed voters to one choice or another, and whether it did. But a more important question (to me) is how effective that education was, other than for people like Dr Coleman, in academia. KT’s comments lead me to believe that she really wasn’t familiar with the nuts and bolts of what the two candidates stood for.

Now, in my opinion, the Mayor did very little to define his specific plans for the future, choosing mostly to run on his one year record. But in a city where democrats outnumber republicans five to one and the democrat is the incumbent, he really didn’t need to do more. It was up to the challenger to make specific proposals and then hammer the incumbent to respond to the (challenger’s) proposals. In fairness, DeSantis did some of that, but obviously not five to one’s worth. For example, KT said she viewed the DeSantis website, yet she was not impressed. Perhaps that was because the main menu links took vistors to paragraphs of catch phrases, while the actual pages with content had to be chased through a news releases link. The main set of fiscal proposals, although still available, eventually was not directly accessible on the website.

Much (or at least some) has been made of Squirrel Hill and Shadyside’s turn out for DeSantis. These neighborhoods were/are described as more affluent, and thus (some say) more willing to vote republican. There is another feature of these neighborhoods, though; their proximity to Pitt and CMU. I think the educational nature of this election was successful to the extent that neighborhoods where people with advanced degrees are more likely to live (to be close to work) turned out for the challenger. But the DeSantis campaign failed to talk to the rest of the city. That is something candidates will have to look at in 2009, how to talk issues and facts in such a way that Squirrel Hill understands, but also so does Brookline.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Join the excitiing field of security work ...

The Downtown Partnership has an update to their program to take us into the future of downtown security:
“Safety Ambassadors
Seven days a week, Safety Ambassadors walk and ride bikes throughout the Golden Triangle, on the lookout for problems or people needing assistance. They are trained to deal with panhandlers, homeless individuals, and minor medical problems, as well as to provide directions and information about Downtown and nearby attractions. Starting Monday, November 12, their new uniform will be a vibrant red, making them even easier to spot on a busy street. ”
Vibrant Red. Cool. As long as they don’t end up like this fellow.

H/T to Peeet Girl

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Well, I've been warned ...

Well, I’ve been warned to “quit over analyzing”. Apparently I don’t understand the bottom line.

Naw, I want to say a little more. Bram had a youtube video from the movie “300” on the Comet in honor of Dr DeSantis. I think that is a bit much. Mark DeSantis’ campaign might have worked better at the state or maybe the federal congressional level. DeSantis made a point of emphasizing issues and policies over personality, which plays ok if you are addressing a whole state or at least a larger congressional district. DeSantis did occasionally, perhaps inadvertently, go negative, such as when he talked a couple of times about the Mayor’s lack of humility, and when he called the Mayor’s attack flyers “sad” and what you do when you have nothing left to talk about.

But mostly DeSantis talked relentlessly about the abstract issues, in proposals and in the debates. He certainly had some original ideas and interesting proposals. Mostly they were abstract, though, with no substance for voters to hang on to. No folksy annecdotes to help the message go down easier. The Mayor was equally abstract and vague, but when there is a tie in a political debate, the incumbent generally keeps the votes he started with. DeSantis even acknowledges the importance he placed on the “issues” in this passage from the end of his concession speech:

“This wasn’t about politics.

This was about policy. This was about progress. This was about people. And now, finally, it’s about the promise of a new and better Pittsburgh.

We love this city. And we’re going to continue to believe in it. Just as we’ll continue to believe in the power of taking a chance, in the possibilities of change, and in the always bold and noble purpose of public service. We’re going to continue this work. We’re going to redouble our efforts. And we’re not going to stop until Pittsburgh is once more the best and most prosperous city in America.”

This would have been ok if Mark had been trying to become City Manager or something. But a Mayoral race is about politics, and popularity. Especially in this race, where a republican is trying to win over a bunch of democrats, and scare a bunch of democrats away from the incumbent. If you had violated your principles just to win, we would have forgiven you, offered you absolution. Because the thing is, in politics the principled guy loses (see Al Gore, Jimmy Carter, George McGovern, John McCain et al).

Split the difference ...

Well, that would be that. The conventional wisdom held that the Mayor would have cruised to victory at least 70/30, DeSantis’s supporters (including me) were hoping for no more than 60/40, preferably 55/45. So we ended up with 64/35, with 1% of the perennial “Mickey Mouse” write-ins. Splitin' the difference. Yep, I am ignoring the socialist and the libertarian, who between them got fifteen hundred votes. Damn election stealer’s. No, "stealer’s". It’s not Monday night.

Total city votes cast about 67,000. I’m not sure what that means for the city, percentage-turnout-wise, but county wide turnout was at 28%.

A competent Mayor would have gotten that 70/30, maybe 75/25 like democrats of the past have gotten. Actually, Joe Weinroth, with his lack of campaigning, got 27% of the vote against the supposedly wildly popular Bob O’Connor. That was the best showing by a republican in many elections, FWIW. Actually, now Mark DeSantis' is the the best showing by a republican in many an election, going from five to one to slightly less than two to one.

Still, a competent challenger might have won against this Mayor. And I don’t want to take away from Mark DeSantis with that statement, he is passionate and intelligent, but he was a first-time campaigner, and I wonder if he knows why he lost ( … besides the five-to-one registration thingie …).

George W should have lost against Al Gore in 2000, and he did, actually. But the reason he got close enough for the Supremes to toss it to him is that he could hide his true tax-cutting , government-hobbling self in a folksy exterior. The suggestion I had made to Mark was to use personal-type anecdotes in the debates. By personal type, I mean something like Joe Police-man has been on the force for twenty years and is looking to retire. He’s looking forward to taking his grandkids to Sandcastle and traveling with his wife. Except that his pension has been cut in half, so he is going to have to look for work, in this city. He can’t afford to move out of the city, but his kids couldn’t afford to stay, because they couldn’t find good paying jobs here. So Joe and wife will be traveling, on the bus, to see his grandkids. If he can get time off from the McDonald’s where he works. If he can't, maybe the grandkids can visit and have half off Happy Meals (tm). – kind of fing. Correctly done (for example, shorter), it might have made a difference. But that’s obviously not on the issues, per se, and I think Mark wanted to present the issues and let voters make up their own minds.

Would a different style in the debates have been worth the whole 15% Mark needed to make up? Probably not, he probably also needed to hammer on the Mayor’s problems by presenting negative ads. Bill Peduto’s prediction that anyone going negative against the Mayor in spring would suffer more might well not have held true in the fall, after Tiger-gate, Golf/domestic abuse-gate, Ethics-board-gate, Tail-gate and I can’t even remember which all else (not counting the earlier Heinz-gate-gate, McNeilly-gate, BurkleNY-gate and the off-duty police pay issue).

In other words, Mark needed to run a mature campaign with professionals. He was Robert Redford in "The Candidate" (even if he does look more like Peter Boyle), but he didn’t have Peter Boyle, he had ..., well ..., Jim Roddy (and Mark didn't win where Bobby Redford did). I don’t know if Mark listened to Jim, or what Jim said. Jim may well have been off raising the half million for Mark's campaign, and may not have had time to talk to Mark. Mark also needed to run a five month campaign instead of a two month campaign. Maybe with five months his messages about the issues could have sunk in, but with two months he needed to get down into the dirt. Instead Mark went down with his head held high, but the major point is 65-35. Sorry Mark. The burghospree is rough sometimes. And Pittsburgh is one for two on PhD's in government.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

I want to continue “refining” my case for Mark DeSantis over Luke Ravenstahl, though in fact what I want to talk about now may not put him in the light his supporters want to put him in.

Back on Wednesday I wrote that I didn’t want this to be an ABL (Anyone But Luke) race. Part of the reason that I didn’t want that is because of the way those races tend to go. If people think more about why they dislike a candidate than why the like the opponent, they seem to tend to invest the opponent with characteristics they favor. So I have read, here and there, about how Dr DeDantis is a progressive.

To be honest, I’m not sure what a progressive is. I think I have a pretty good handle on populists, and I used to think I knew what a conservative is, until the conservatives in this presidential administration (and Neocons) spent money like crazy (or like Keynesians), and invaded two countries. But I’m kind of stymied on what a progressive is. Is it a populist who ignores what the people say, but tries to help them anyway?

I know Bill Peduto is supposed to be a progressive, as is Michael Lamb. I don’t know much about either man except that Peduto is supposed to be the smart guy on council. Actually, Peduto might be trying to reposition himself as council’s elder statesman, now that Dowd is headed toward council. In any event, I don’t know about any specific piece of legislation Peduto produced, although I think I am supposed to be able to find out now. So at the moment, I am not sure what a Pittsburgh Progressive is supposed to be, although I can tell you, I don’t think Mark DeSantis is that guy.

I mean, in some sense, yeah. I don’t know if I credit the charge that the Mayor is philosophically or religiously opposed to contraception, although I wouldn’t be surprised if it were true. But regardless the Mayor’s public position is to be opposed to Gay Marriage, Civil Unions and to be Pro-Life. This puts DeSantis well to the left of the Mayor on these issues.

These guys are staking out nonsensical differences between them that in fact should not matter. As I have been saying, the residency requirement gets decided by state law, and while the support or opposition of a Mayor may have some impact on the legislature, the state still can, really, do what it wants. But I believe each candidate thinks they get something out of maintaining the illusion that their respective positions on residency makes a difference.

My feeling is that the really important differences are in their views on economic policy. In this area we don’t have as much as I would like to go on, really only speeches from the Mayor and an outline of a policy from Dr DeSantis. But that outline is, to my way of thinking, very instructive.

I think that a DeSantis administration would be a time of pain for the city. A cornerstone of his policy is a hiring freeze, and letting the positions of people who retire or leave stay open. Now, he also says he wants to put more police on the street by pulling them from behind desk duty. Apparently he intends to replace those uniformed police with civilian hires, so this hiring freeze isn’t absolute. But overall apparently we could expect to see city services decline, unless we get a bunch of retirees to volunteer to cover some services (until they die).

The combination of county and city services in Parks, Information Technology, Purchasing (if that hasn’t already been fully done), Law, Maintenance and Tax Collection as proposed by DeSantis is an intriguing idea. Besides eliminating either a city or county manager (except maybe in the Law Department), there are probably some economies of scale, where maybe two people can do the work previously done by three. Maybe. Certainly worth looking into. Because both city and county are currently hurting for money.

On the other hand, DeSantis has made it clear he would like to create a friendlier atmosphere for new startup small businesses, as well as for minority owned small businesses and businesses that can supply the city and county. The Mayor and the challenger talk about streamlining the process by which business permits come into and move through city hall. Of course, you can ask why the Mayor hasn’t done this already, since he is in office now (I believe he had claimed to have do it already, but now he talks bout doing it in the future).

The picture of DeSantis emerges, to me, not of a progressive but of an economic pragmatist. That’s definitely not the same thing, progressives look for ways to better serve voters and other citizens, while someone like Dr DeSants looks for ways to save money while keeping the current level of service. I don’t think DeSantis would oppose the idea of doing more with less, just that on a practical level usually the most you can expect is doing the same with less until someone goes on vacation.

All those bloggers and newspaper columnists and people interviewed in the paper who project their hopes and labels onto DeSantis need to stop and take another look. If, by some miracle of chance DeSantis does win, he may surprise some of his East End supporters. I’m here today to say, take another look.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

continuing, and ending, a short lived tradition ...

Sooooo, continuing … and ending … my short lived tradition of posting after a debate … I looked around the Burghospree just a bit and saw some comments and at least one post, FWIW.

I think you might be able to say that DeSantis carried this one. He finally hit a stride, and got comfortable enough in his own skin. He lost the catholic vote, of course, except maybe not. He said he was pro-choice and not opposed to gay unions (I think they said) and why not. How many catholic’s are in fact more tolerant than their church, because they have to live in the real world? These things happen anyway, and for the Mayor to oppose them is to make women and gays fear persecution. Which, interestingly, was Mark DeSantis’ gaff, talking about the broken windows policy of policing, he happened to say something about going after small crimes and persecuting them, when he meant prosecuting them. I felt a little like I was in a Dostoevsky novel, with D chasing down R.

Anyway, I think DeSantis really hit his stride early, talking about what he would do to encourage minority business ownership. It got his brain there and there he stayed, talking about the need for Pittsburgh to have new businesses and thus new jobs. Practically every answer he gave revolved around the business theme in some way, to the point where he stopped himself at one point and said something like look, government doesn’t start businesses, but then indicated how government can remove obstacles. My mom called right after the debate and pronounced DeSantis the winner, and I am inclined to agree.

Of course, what is interesting is what is not said. I still don’t believe the Mayor can give a waiver for residency to city employees, I still believe it is a state thing. But both candidates believe it is in their interest’s to act as though the do have some power over the residency requirement. Nothing was said about ethics, that I heard anyway. The question Bob Mayo asked first, in the first debate (, about the deficits in year’s four and five of the Mayor’s five year plan, almost totally ducked by the Mayor and never asked again, damnit. Ethics did not come up at all tonight, which must have been a relief to the Mayor, and maybe DeSantis as well.

There was one question tonight, and I not sure which, in which Ravenstahl did not answer the question at all, and Stacy Smith looked a little startled. I think it started when the Mayor was talking about how DeSantis says he wants to be able to hire from outside the city as we as from inside, and how that was a slap in the face to city resident potential employees. DeSantis countered by commenting on how the Mayor said he conducted a “national” search when he asked his directors to resign. I think that was when Stacy Smith asked “What about it, Mr. Ravenstahl?” and Luke did a big non-sequitor. I’ll have to look again when QED fulfills its promise and has the debate on their website.

So, please, think hard about your vote on Tuesday.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Mayor and the Challenger ...

Surprisingly, I still want to write (twist the knife in myself) a bit more about the race. The race for Mayor. A brief survey of my feelings about the two candidates.

I am really reluctant for this to be an ABL race: Anyone But Luke. But there are aspects of that to this race. Forget the Mayor’s five year plan with deficits in years four and five. It says more even about the state’s view of us than it says about the Mayor. And lots of things can happen in four years. I am still worried about the future of the city under this Mayor. He talks about a development boom, by which he means new buildings going up and other buildings being rehabbed. Essentially this is a boom for construction and construction workers (reliable democratic voters), but buildings themselves do not equal new or even expanded business. We have seen that over the long haul as retail and office space sits empty downtown and in the neighborhoods, year after year. That means no new tax revenues, no new jobs. But you can bet the Mayor wants to hire more city employees, even though we simply can not afford to, even if the Mayor offers new hires a defined contribution plan (an idea the Mayor stole from DeSantis).

The Mayor’s view towards minority opportunity is as narrow as his view of economic development. He points to African American police and fire chiefs (sorry to any one else who wanted to apply for those jobs, they’re filled). And he says he would like to hire more minorities to the police and fire bureaus. Good paying but dangerous jobs we would like to offer to the city’s African American community.

The Mayor’s relationship with the large non-profits seems weak. Certainly the non profits help in a few high profile ways, like the few million they give the city and the Nordenberg group studying city/county merger. But these groups are not going to leave if pressed a bit harder, indeed they simply can not physically move. It may be time for more of the big non profit corporate residents of Pittsburgh to feel our pain.

Meanwhile the Mayor has stated that the pension issue (at least) is a state issue, that the state has a legal obligation to help distressed city’s with their pensions. But in the last debate he said he would not go to Harrisburg to ask for money, only to tell them about Pittsburgh and its needs. I guess he expects Harrisburg to help us out of the goodness of their hearts.

On the other hand, Mark DeSantis has some troubling notions. There is that spending cap, with what a lot of people would think is a restrictive formula for growth of spending. I don’t think Mark could simply implement it, and I don’t think it will go far either among the electorate or in City Council. DeSantis’ cap would use a simple formula for growth of spending: the CPI plus the rate of growth (or decline) of the city. I think it should be the rate of growth of average income in the city, without the CPI.

I think that Mark should stop talking about the residency requirement. It is a state level issue, and for my money no Mayor will have that much impact in Harrisburg, though I’m sure Harrisdurg would listen politely. But since Mark wants to initiate a hiring freeze, probably the biggest benefit of lifting the residency requirement is lost, the ability to hire from a bigger pool of applicants (from outside the city and well as inside). Although I don’t know how he can get out of his previous statements, he doesn’t need to harp on it continuously.

But I am reasonably impressed with Mark DeSantis’ economic proposals. In giving new small business tax breaks for three years, he maximizes benefits at a reduced cost to the city’s operations. His minority development proposal will cost the city very little (maybe nothing). These are not panaceas, but this is better than what the Mayor has proposed.

So I have reasons for supporting DeSantis over Ravenstahl. And to the extent anyone reads my blog I hope they will think about the Mayor and the Challenger in economic development terms and ask themselves, who would do more for the city.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Tonight's debate

It’s interesting to me that among the usual suspects, the Burgh Report, the Comet, Democrats for DeSantis, 2 Political Junkies, Matt H and Char, no one is saying anything about the debate tonight (as of 10:30). There is a collective deafening silence. Have we already reached debate fatigue? There is another coming, you know, Thursday.

One thing I think is worth mentioning. It was widely predicted, as I recall, that the Mayor would try to avoid debating DeSantis. Particularly there were predictions that the first two debates would be it (again, as I remember it). Certainly the Mayor has come through on debate participation, and deserves due credit.

Another point worth mentioning is that the assumption was the DeSantis would wipe the floor with the boy Mayor in the debates. Instead the Mayor has … (ahem) held his own and probably even beaten Desantis on style points. I still believe DeSantis is winning the war of content, if only just. But that’s a thing. Mark DeSantis has been a real candidate for less than a hundred days. Meeting sympathetic bloggers is no substitute for real campaigning. Working with employees (whom you can fire, but also who share a purpose with you) is no substitute for talking to voters you have to persuade. I am sure Desantis has made his share of presentations designed to persuade, but we expect something different from politicians than from businessmen. We expect politicians to be someone we can relate to, someone who wants to make us feel good about ourselves, and bad about the other guy.

But it is meaningless for me to say that DeSantis should be cut a break because he is in unfamiliar territory. It was up to him to demonstrate his commitment by getting out early to campaign. He chose to show character, but to the wrong audience (I guess wrapping up his business with his company as quickly as he could).

DeSantis has used the word humility a couple of times in the debate, as in what the Mayor lacks. It’s not a word I use much, if ever, in fact, it makes me a little uncomfortable for no apparent reason. I recognize that politicians, by necessity, usually have outsized egos and by extension thicker skins. It’s not clear with the Mayor; with his (extensive) use of the royal/editorial “we”, he seems to have the ego (why does he say “our administration” instead of “my administration”?). But I suspect the whole city has gotten a thinner skin impression from the Mayor.

The Mayor actually made a pretty crucial admission tonight. He said he had a sense he could keep a lot of his activities private when he started the job, but realizes now that isn’t so. As big as that admission is, the Mayor went on to say to Ken Rice something about the two of them agreeing to disagree about the significance of aspects of the Mayor’s behavior. That’s a little like a criminal telling a cop they should agree to disagree about the criminal’s little breaking and entering behavior. I personally believe the Mayor should follow what is in the ethics code as it is written, and if that means some sacrifice in not going to Steelers or Penguins games, you can watch them on TV like the rest of us. Because if I were Danny Schiff, I would want to see the Mayor’s credit card statements to make sure he hasn’t violated guidelines.

The terms I would use instead of humility are words like apologize and take responsibility. The Mayor has done some of that, but not for every incident, and quite frankly the Mayor gives off a simmering resentment and sense of impatience when he has been questioned about incidents. It is, again frankly, the resentment a bully gives off when caught bullying a smaller kid. If you would just see the world through my eyes, you would understand why you shouldn’t ask that question. And I shouldn’t have to explain.

Which is the whole point, I guess. Experienced politicians or natural politicians usually have the knack of understanding other people’s point of view, and slipping into an easy dialogue where they acknowledge a mistake and tell the other person they know how they were hurt and then the politician apologizes (and asks for their vote). I think even Mark DeSantis, in his hundred day career as a politician, understands that. I don’t think the Mayor does, and possibly never will.

One more quick point. I can’t remember if it was in response to Jon Delano’s question about local political experience, but as Mark DeSantis went through his resume, 14 years in DC in politics, 10 years in Pittsburgh as a businessman/entrepreneur, it occurred to me the man has been working almost as long as the Mayor has been alive. And has three more educational degrees than the Mayor.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Two stories today ...

There were two stories today that point to a level of disarray in the Ravenstahl administration that ought to be cause for concern. The first, from the Post-Gazette concerns William Rogers and Zora Mae Stone, who have both contacted the city with issues. His concern the length of time it is taking for approvals for his development, hers are with the trucks and construction of this development near her home. He started this development in 2001, according to the story. It mentions how several departments demanded changes in his plans. He submitted a second application for a second phase of development in 2005 (which apparently got lost in the system). He resubmitted in November 2006, and has been waiting ever since, but still working on his development. Now, we have heard the Mayor say, in the debates, he has (already) streamlined the process for building applications. Apparently the building inspection office has not heard of it. Neither has the building inspection department heard the repeated complaints from people living near the construction site to the 311 line, until the story was being written. That’s six years that the city administration did not communicate internally. This is all from the paper, so if y’all want to dispute it, talk to Rich Lord. And we are all aware the Mayor inherited a distressed city and understaffed government. But the point is that in some respects it appears he has made no progress in the problems of city government. For example, his 311 line is of no use if it doesn’t pass the issue to the right department.

The second story is a profile of Nate Harper in the Pittsburgh-Trib. Now, I don’t know what to make of Nate Harper, but a lot of police seem to want to be on the record about what a good chief he is. On the other hand, the chief seemed to dismiss the concerns of a subordinate when she complained about the Mayor’s use of a Homeland Security SUV. Maybe the Mayor has a temper about such things or something. Anyway, the important thing about the story is that Harper reports he and the Mayor hardly ever meet. This seems like a big problem. We know it lead to the police promotion issue and possibly the SUV issue. The Mayor knows gang-related violence is up in some neighborhoods. Doesn’t he want to know what is going on, doen't he want progress reports or doen't he care?

Taken together, these two stories point to a city government that is not communicating internally, and thus not serving the people of Pittsburgh as well as it could.

The debate and the endorsement ...

My Sister-in-Law, Janet, is in town from Texas, visiting my Mother-in-Law. Janet is a nurse who works for the Texas department of …well, whoever regulates nursing homes. She drives around the state looking at nursing homes and investigating complaints. So she is reasonably well educated and intelligent. She is a democrat (she grew up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh), but she has no dog in the hunt for the current Mayor’s race. She watched part of yesterday’s debate because it was on. I told her a little about the Mayor and DeSantis ahead of time, so she might have been predisposed towards DeSantis. But as she watched little bits, parts of the three minutes the candidates got to talk, she expressed some inclination towards the Mayor (sounds like he has his “feet on the ground”) and disinclination towards DeSantis (using "double-talk"). Remember that Janet has no stake in this and comes (mostly) clean to this viewpoint. In some respects, I would take her viewpoint as representing that of “Joe Voter”, average person, even if she is a bit more educated than an average person.

I think most of us have already made up our minds, but I probably shouldn’t. I think statistics probably say that we make up our minds in the last week or couple of weeks before the election. I assume people have noticed, through the year, headlines and news teasers that indicate the Mayor has been involved in some shenanigans. I assume the people who watch the debate were probably more informed and had likely already made up their minds, thank god, since Desantis, in my opinion, did worse yesterday than in the first televised debate. Of course, I was watching in a room full of chattering women, who complained about the TV being on. But he didn’t mention his micro loan program that I heard, nor his tax abatement for new small businesses, the things he is excited about.

I called the PG endorsement (of DeSantis for Mayor) the kiss of death, which is probably unfair. The Mayor himself called it not unexpected, considering where the paper has been going the last few months. Yes, but the Mayor refuses to see how much of this he has brought on himself. From the start, from his denials about the Heinz Field incident and his actions in the McNeilly affair, the Mayor has tried to keep information away from the press. No one should be surprised if the press starts to look harder. Some of the incidents may have been overblown, as the Mayor puts it. But if they were, it is more the Mayor’s fault for trying to conceal events, time and time again.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Things along the way to the end of the race ...

I read about two freshman state legislators from this area that want to add 10,000 police in Pennsylvania. It reminded me of the Clinton administration, particularly because some commenter on a blog accused DeSantis of working for the Bush administration that had stopped the Clinton era federal block grants for police. As everyone should know by now, DeSantis worked for HW, not W.

But it reminded me about some thinking I have been doing about Bill Clinton recently. I almost never like current presidents while they are current. I tried to like HW (I was more conservative then), and he did several things I approved of, like trying to raise taxes to deal with the deficit, and Desert Storm. But he was sort of wimpy. I had a similar like/dislike sort of fing with Clinton. We knew he liked women a lot, and apparently wasn’t choosy (Paula Jones? Monica?). In a way, that’s sort of endearing (the not choosy part), but he makes Luke look like an underachiever in the dubious ethics department. Bill also milked his good fortune in having the internet boom occur during his presidency.

It’s the policies that came out of that spare money that I think about now. As they say, no good deed goes unpunished. For example, the education credits that Clinton takes credit for, the hope and lifetime learning credits; the unintended consequences of those credits are still being felt. Basically the credits make it possible to spend up to two grand more on college. Since most people cover a lot of their expenses with loans, the two grand additional in a tax rebate (usually your student also qualifies for the child tax credit) comes in handy during those all important college spending years. And people wonder why college tuition has been going up faster than inflation. In fact, the fact that former trade schools (Triangle Tech, the Culinary Institute, the Art Institute) now qualify for both the education credits and all forms of financial aid (student loans) means that they have gone from a few hundred dollars to fifteen grand for an 18 month program.

Now, there should be no doubt that these changes are resulting in more people going to or going back to school. And eventually that should mean higher productivity and higher wages (without higher prices because of the higher productivity). But in the near term no one knows how they will afford school for themselves or their kids.

Now I told you that story to set this one up. Those two legislators reminded me of the Clinton spending on cops on the street. I guess Pittsburgh had a fairly large number of cops in the past, although it had more people then too. The thing was, the money for the cops was coming from outside the city, which meant it was supporting an artificial number of cops (for the amount of taxes people were willing to pay). Even now, now that the block grants are gone (to Iraq), people look back at the nineties and think and say, we don’t have enough police. And the Mayor hears them and wants to oblige. Will it bankrupt his budget? I want to revisit, for just a second, the deficits in his five year plan. The first is four years out, and is four million dollars. The second, as I recall, at five years, is 11 million. A very short upward trend. Could the third be twenty million? How long can the rainy day fund hold out?

Clinton had to know his block grants would have some problems in the future. I guess it is better in politics to spend what you can when you can, except not in this city at this time.

Meanwhile, speaking of spending (or the lack thereof), county council announced today that instead of a budget shortfall that could be taken care of with 200 layoffs, there is a budget shortfall equivalent to 800 layoffs. I had thought the county was ok, apparently I was wrong. Suddenly Mark DeSantis doesn’t seem for silly for fully embracing a city/county merger. The county now has maybe more to gain from pursing a more aggressive merger schedule. The timing of this new issue is funny too. Ravenstahl apparently was getting some traction in the merger issue. But if the well liked and respected Dan Onorato suddenly seems interested in some more service mergers, it may change a lot of minds.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Mayor has influence?

So I’m not much of a radio listener, I listen to music while I cycle stationarily and drive forward-ly, but not much talk radio (what’s NPR count as?), and certainly not talk radio during the day. But with the magic of the internet and the vigilance of other bloggers, I caught up with a piece on KDKA Radio. If you click on the play button on the “Funny Business in FOP Mayoral Endorsement?” item, you will hear Jim Malloy of the FOP. He is still talking about the residency requirement, but he makes some of the Mayor’s supporter’s case for them. He talks about a bill in Harrisburg, languishing in two (un-named) committees for some time, but finally on its way out, when Ravenstahl takes a trip to Harrisburg and next thing you know, the bill moves over to Appropriations, where it still is. So says Malloy.
You know, who knows. I judge the Mayor’s influence by the fact that Jane Orie cancelled a meeting with him when he was there last week on Monday and Tuesday. Maybe her kids (if she has any) had a soccer game, or maybe she was actually annoyed that the Mayor of Pittsburgh had let his council pass a bill contradicting state law. But Malloy implies the Mayor has pals in the legislature who will help him out by sticking it to the FOP. Maybe, not much would surprise me around here. It’s an awfully anti-union direction for a Pittsburgh Mayor to take, but what the hell, let's make the city employees stay in the city, if only to keep their property and wage taxes.
It’s possible DeSantis’ objection to the residency requirement is something to do with helping out his “pals” in the suburbs, as well as the usual republican union busting. You know how those people (republicans) are. Unfortunately there is nothing a casual Google turned up, as almost all entries under a search of “residency requirements municipal” are either research articles that I am not paying $25 for, or advocacy pieces mostly against residency requirement, or little snippets of municipal code.
Is Malloy correct that the Mayor is using his influence in Harrisburg to block a lifting of residency requirements? It seems farfetched to me, but I suppose it is possible. For DeSantis' part, I personally think asking the state to lift the residency requirement while also calling for a hiring freeze is a little silly, and I hope Dr DeSantis holds off on that particular promise.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Residency debacle ...

So they were really mean to me over on 414 GRANT STREET. Wah, Wah. Anyway, come to find out the residency requirement thing is handled by the state legislature. Luke’s supporters apparently have their panties all twisted up and in a bind because the Mayor, whoever it might be, might ask the state legislature to get rid of the residency requirement (Heavens forfind!). Like asking for things has worked out well for us. If a Pittsburgh Mayor had that kind of power, we would be knee deep in pension fund bucks.

So it’s a non-issue. DeSantis can’t sell the city down the river, he’s got nothing to sell … it … with … OK, that analogy kinda went wrong, but you get the point. So how much does it piss anyone off that that was the big issue in the papers, and it is a non-issue. Meanwhile, the Mayor didn’t answer about the deficits in his five year plan, and said that the pension funds could only be fixed at the state level. Does he think state legislators don’t have people watching the Pittsburgh Mayoral debates? Does he never want to have a meeting with Jane Orie?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Quick takes on the debate - updated 7:00am

You know, if local politicians had as much ability as national level politicians, they would be national level politicians. That’s actually not fair, but tonight’s debate between Ravenstahl and DeSantis did not rise to the level of Bush and Gore or Bush and Kerry (which are themselves not terribly high bars to set). The thing to remember about Ravenstahl and DeSantis is that actually they are both relative political newcomers. DeSantis is smart enough, but naive enough to think voters should not be manipulated. He also has very little experience that I know speaking before audiences, and thinking on his feet in that format. Ravenstahl simply needs more seasoning.

So some short takes on the debate. Ravenstahl simply refused to answer Bob Mayo’s question about how his five plan goes into deficit in four years. He blathered about how his budgets are balanced, and how the ICA signed off on his budget. Someone should have asked if he understands the implications of Jane Orie cancelling their meeting in Harrisburg last week and the connection to the ICA signing off on his five year plan (ie, the state is happy for Pittsburgh to fail). Actually, Bob Mayo asked his question again, and Ravenstahl ran his pay as you go spiel, and claimed that in 2017 debt will go down by $50 million. That’s fine, if we get there intact. Ravenstahl also stated out loud that the state is responsible for fixing the $500 million pension shortfall. Of course, since the state wouldn’t let the city freeze the parking tax, what makes Ravenstahl think it will come through on pensions?

DeSantis didn’t say anything about his spending cut proposal (that I heard, anyway). That’s probably a good thing, as I don’t think that will sell well around here.

The Mayor dodged the ethics issue pretty completely. The problem with ethics is that the issue here is subtle and complex enough to make it almost impossible to deal with in a debate format. I wish a paper would devote a single article to it, but that would be the end of that paper's relationship with Grant street. Not that the Mayor has done, as far as I am aware, anything strictly unethical, but that is the area where his actions most closely resemble those of George W Bush's. Desantis proposal of an ethics compliance officer is fine, a gimmick, but his response about not accepting a gift as Mayor shows he hasn't devoted enough thought to the complexity of the issue (as it stands now in Picksburgh).

The debate was pretty boring, neither man hit a home run, or even much of a single.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Jumping the Shark ...

I seem to have posted everyday this week, which is not usual for me. I am, in fact, pretty well out of things to say. The FOP endorsed Mark DeSantis because he is willing ot do away with the residency requirement for the cops. I’m sure he thinks that residency requirements are a barrier to being able to select the best person for the job. Joe Weinroth got the firefighters endorsement in 2005. It apparently didn’t make a big difference.

A while back, the 2 PJ’s were noting that by looking in their sitemeter, or whatever tracking tool they are using, they could see the IP address of visitors such as the justice department. I had noticed that sometime ago myself on my blog site. I used to have regular morning visits from both the city and the county, but I noticed about two weeks ago that the visits from the city stopped (unless they subcontracted out with Comcast or some other Internet Provider). Not that I can see any more then who you pay to get you onto the internet. Maybe someone smarter than me could tell something interesting. Anyway, too bad the city seemed to give up monitoring my blog. I still see the county now and again.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Four year countdown ...

So I probably overstated the issue a bit in my last post. Just to be clear, when we run a $3 million deficit in 2011, we will still have the $40 million "rainy day fund" to handle that sprinkle and the next year's $15 million shower, not to mention a year or two of shower's after that.

But two things genuinely bother me. First, by signing off on a budget with built in deficits in four years, the state/ICA is making it clear that not only do they not care about the City's pension shortfall or debt, they do not care if the city makes it short term operating obligations. I see no reason to think we will ever get out from under Act 47 oversight, or if we do it will only be for a couple of years.

Second, when did the media know about this? Since late September? Or was it something that just came out after ICA approved the Mayor's budget. It might have made a difference at the candidate's forums. DeSantis had a copy of the Mayor's budget, and he might have found out. If so, the man is bucking for sainthood in his self restraint. Surely that would be a good issue to nail the Mayor on, after the Mayor has bragged about his balanced budgets.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Spending caps and the lack thereof

So I have downloaded some literature on spending caps and skimmed it. I have a 17 page paper from a liberal group, a 17 page paper from a libertarian/conservative group, a possibly neutral paper that says that spending caps don’t matter and assorted other stuff. I have to wonder if instead of using the CPI and population rise/drop as the expenditure increase allowable under the spending cap, maybe we should use the average increase in income for the city for the year. It’s hard to imagine a situation where that would be negative, and its likely that revenues would be increasing by that amount, keeping the budget tending towards being in balance.

Speaking of which … no, wait, first let me say that the Mayor did veto the parking tax freeze. This after Republican State Senator Jane Orie put the freeze on Ravenstahl, cancelling their scheduled meeting. Doug Shields is inclined to support the veto (despite the fact the was 8 to 1 previously, which could easily over ride a veto), since Orie had instructed the ICA to yank other funds if the bill wasn’t vetoed (and stayed vetoed).

Speaking of balance (and the lack thereof), the ICA approved the Mayor’s budget, according to the PG. There are a few conditions, including the one the Mayor met today in vetoing the parking tax freeze bill. Because we will have around a hundred million in a savings account, about 60 million will be dedicated to capital projects. Enjoy it while its there, because that’s all that’s going to be there … maybe ever. In 2011 we go into deficit to the tune of $3 million and in 2012 we will be in deficit of $15 million. Apparently this is ok with the Mayor, the Governor and the various city overseers. Let’s be clear here, the presumptive front runner and next Mayor of Pittsburgh has written a budget with built in bankruptcy in it. You know, not having enough money to make payments into the pension fund, meet payrolls, keep pools open, salt city streets - the whole Tom Murphy thing. Maybe Chapter 9, except the state legislature won't let us. And according to that same PG article, Doug Shields is talking to colleagues about taking us out of Act 47. Luke Ravenstahl is talking about expanding city government. Although he has taken a page or two from Dr DeSantis' plan: "The mayor also plans to offer new, nonunion hires a defined contribution retirement plan instead of a pension." and "The city is considering merging its own development, planning and business inspection units."

But god knows we can't have a spendig cap, to head off deficits in 2011, because that is a standard rethuglican boilerplate plan for cities. And Mark DeSantis is the enemy.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Grover DeSantis redux

Previously I have looked at Mark DeSantis the person, or at least DeSantis the republican. Then the PG did it too, on Sunday, and much better than I could.

Now I want to take a look at a specific part of Dr DeSantis' economic recovery plan for the city, his proposed spending cap. I realize this is supposed to be an example of both “out of the box” thinking and his commitment to fiscal responsibility. A lot of people (or maybe one guy in a lot of places) are bringing up Grover Norquist, and also Colorado, in reference to this cap, and I can see why. There is some similarity in the barebones description of the two spending caps, a formula based on the rate of inflation plus population growth. The Colorado spending cap was set up as a constitutional amendment, and the DeSantis spending cap is proposed as a change to the Home Rule Charter. I’m actually not sure how you amend the home rule charter (and I’m too lazy/busy to look), but the Colorado spending cap required a statewide popular vote to be changed. Interestingly, that’s just what happened in 2005 to the 1992 law, a popular vote suspended it for five years.

There are differences between states and cities, and the kinds of things they have to pay for. So a spending cap would have a different meaning for a city compared to states. But both have to worry about health care spending, for example, and that has consistently grown faster than the inflation rate. Now, I have just started to look at this, and I will admit to being both intrigued and concerned. Pretty much isn’t the city budget supposed to be balanced? Obviously, somewhere along the line we fell down on that, or we wouldn’t be financially distressed and in debt and having under-funded pensions. So the DeSantis cap would be supposed to protect future generations from future free-wheeling spending.

As I say, I am just starting to look at this. I want to take a look at spending caps used by other cities and counties. I have heard some hints that they use different formulas. But just off the top of my head I could propose an alternative amendment to the home rule charter. Instead of capping spending at a certain rate, I would suggest that every time the Mayor proposes and the city council passes a budget with more spending than revenue coming in, the Mayor would have to pay a penalty of 1% of his (or her) salary, and city council would have to pay a penalty too (1%? .5%?). This way, if a Mayor really felt the need to spend out of balance, and could really convince a majority of council of that need, he or she could do it. But the Mayor would have a good incentive not to casually spend past tax revenues.

Is my idea too silly for the adult world? Perhaps. And I take comfort in the idea that the DeSantis plan would I guess have to be voted on the city. It's too bad that it does resemble the Colorado plan as much as it does. If DeSantis gets elected, maybe some variant can be proposed that would be more acceptable to all. Meanwhile I will have to come back to this in the near future.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Who is Mark DeSantis?

Mark DeSantis is starting to seem like that crush you get when you are sixteen. The girl (or boy, for those of you of the opposite gender) can do no wrong, and you attribute all your favorite characteristics to her. Thus in an AP piece (from TWM via the Burgh Report) there is a small business-woman from the Hill who supports DeSantis, saying "He says he's a Republican, but he has a Democrat heart because he's all about, like, people and the community and helping, too." In my limited experience with DeSantis he is, in fact, all about helping business people because he doesn’t want to see the city go under and business people generate the income that can be taxed at the right rate, where everyone makes the most money they can. That kind of makes him a republican, in my book.

Or DeSantis is like the boy (or girl) who is going out with your crush, evil incarnate. My last post was an attempt to respond to an anonymous commenter on 2PJ’s who compared MarkDeSantis to Grover Norquist. One point I tried to make was that if Dr DeSantis wanted help out his rich friends, and cut government assistance for the poor, he would have gone after the county executive’s job, which is better positioned for that because it controls home assessments and county funded public health. I wasn’t saying Mark DeSantis said any of those things, just that a real conservative republican would want to do that.

But make no mistake, Dr DeSantis wants the city to do more with less, and that would be at least partially a painful transition. Painful because when people have gotten used to doing things a certain way, they generally resist change. A little painful too because City Council has a few of the same members it had when it resisted Act 47.

At the moment, Mark DeSantis is also at least partially the ABR candidate, Anyone But Ravenstahl. As people are starting to say, it’s kind of the Mayor’s fault, since he keeps making errors, the kind that most people would think, I’d better not do that. But being the ABR says nothing about DeSantis himself, it only says he’s not Luke. For some people, that’s enough, but maybe not for all. I kind of hope that’s not the sum total of the prevailing spirit around the Burghospree … I mean, Burghosphere.

The best I can say is to go the Dr DeSantis’ website and/or read the transcript of the latest debate and decide for your self. Mark DeSantis – myth or man?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Grover DeSantis?

Some commenter's here and there have accused Mark DeSantis of being a Grover Norquist like Republican, of wanting to shrink government to the size where it could drown'd in a bath tub. Also, of course, Dr DeSantis will give away special tax perks to the wealthy of Pittsburgh, while crushing the rest of of with crippling taxes.

Well, fair enough, we don't know that much about Dr Desantis. He was a policy analyst to the Science Advisor to the rather rational George H W Bush, worked in the commerce department, apparently on science related issues and worked for the relentlessly moderate John Heinz. So, yeah, we have a lot of reason to see DeSantis as a rabid Club of Growth type, espousing tax cutting, small government and conservative social values. Like when Dr DeSantis announced he was pro-choice. I believe the Mayor grudgingly accepts the idea that birth control clinics shouldn't be blown up (something about accepting the idea, sort of, of bubble zones, but the Mayor is not pro-choice, or so I am told).

Anyway, assuming Dr DeSantis is the monster some people have portrayed him as, the arch conservative friend of Rudy Giuliani (who by the way has only recently become conservative to play to the base in the primaries), should we be bothered by that? Assuming that is the case? I say no, and here's why.

Yes, Dr DeSantis is prescribing Act 47 like cuts for the city, though in a fairly careful way. Actually, to my way of thinking, he is prescribing the Act 47 program that should have been implemented in the first place, real help for all the city's problems, not just a short term fix that leaves us crippled in five years. Yes, he is cutting some taxes, in a very careful way. His service cuts for the city involve (I believe) putting everything on the table in terms of how it should be done (services being outsourcing or being provided by city workers, what kind of benefits to provide city worker, etc), but still slowly shrinking the workforce through attrition, 1% a year. He will probably want to renegotiate some contracts, and there may be some tough fights with labor ahead, but they may be fights labor is willing to have since there is a sense labor maybe does not trust Mayor Ravenstahl (and with good reason considering how he has dealt with the media recently).

And the tax cuts he wants to make maybe could be seen as a give away to the rich, three years for new small businesses of not paying certain Pittsburgh business taxes (he has pals just waiting to start buisnesses. Except that there are small businesses on the near Northside and on the Hill and in other undesirable neighborhoods that Republicans don't want to help. If DeSantis wanted to help his friends, he might put a cap on the amount of income that can be taxed, capping it at one hundred thousand, say. Then his millionaire pals would only pay city wage taxes on their first 100,000 bucks. Why hasn't he proposed that? Probably waiting to ambush us.

But Dr Desantis has proposed none of that. Instead, his proposed budgetary program first builds city savings up to one hundred thousand, and he wants to limit city spending with a goofy formula related to the city's growth and the CPI (requiring an amendment to the city's home rule charter). Then, after whatever time period needed for that, his plan starts to make what payments we can to the underfunded pensions and to the city's debt. It's hoping that when the-non profits see how serious the city is, and how hard it is working, they will kick in in a serious way themselves. And when the state seed how hard the city and the non-profits are trying, they will maybe kick in a serious way too.

Actually, if DeSantis really wanted to fulfill the dream of arch conservatives, he should be running for another office, the county executive's office. The county controls property assessments, for one thing. If DeSantis really wanted to help his rich buddies, those in Shadyside and Squirrel Hill, but also those in Upper Saint Clair and Sewickley, he would cap the value of any house that can be assessed at something like two hundred thousand and make it stick. So all those million dollar houses would only be taxed as if they were two hundred thousand. Mayor's can't do that stuff.

Also all those social services for the poor the county provides, aid to sick people, public health programs, mental health programs, well the churches should be providing that aid. Time to cut those programs until they can be drown'd in a tub. Of course, Mayors can't do anything about those give aways to the poor.

So we can see that Dan Onorato really outsmarted Mark Desantis when Onorato put himself on the Rebulican ticket for county executive as a write-in. DeSantis was stuck running for Mayor instead of county executive, stuck running apparently for a chance to save the city from itself, because that is all his republicanism will let him do. Curse this power that forces him to do good when all he wants to do is evil!