Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Glorious People's Five Year Plan and Great Move Forward ...

I don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout no city finances. Really, I was an econ (and poli sci) major, twenty five years ago, and my interest was in tax policy and subsidies and how to affect human behavior using those tools. Actual government revenues and expenditures tend to make me drowsy (although what doesn’t?).

So I am struggling to understand Pittsburgh’s spending, to write something semi-informed. By the way, I did meet Mark DeSantis last Saturday, and I bring that up because he was complaining about how hard it is to get information out of this government. I just use the inter(tubes)net, but I can sympathize, there is little information available. I mean, there is the whole budget, revenues and expenditures, for the last few years, which is actually quite a lot. But besides that there are confusing city council minutes and not much else. By the way, let me state that, as far as I know and to my satisfaction, the Mayor is quite correct, there is a surplus for the last couple of years running, including this year. If there wasn’t, the city would probably be in receivership.

What am I looking for? Well, you can find the original Act 47 five year plan on the city web site. But in a article about last year’s budget, it mentioned that the Mayor included a (new?) five year plan with his budget proposal. As far as I know, the original five year plan expires some time in 2009. Does that five year plan the Mayor is submitting have anything to do with that 2009 date? Is there a five year plan for this year too? Are we extending the Act 47/ICA rule over us? What is the point, anyway, of this five year dealy? Does anyone believe we know where we will be in five years? I guess the five year plan (as produced every year) could be an Act 47/ICA requirement, to show we have plans to punish our citizens five years out, nothing to do with '09. Does anyone doubt the current five year plans have very optimistic revenue and growth projections (like that the state will start givig us 10 million more dollars besides what we get now)? Of course, the five year plan(s) are not on the web so I haven’t seen it(them). Maybe some of you have.

The surpluses were projected, by the way, back in ’04 when the Mayor was busy voting against Act 47. We are supposed to ride the surpluses down, covering coming shortfalls, as taxes are reduced and pension, health and sewage debt service rises. Since these are long (twenty year?) obligations, no word on how long we are supposed to be able to keep our heads above water. I guess we were certainly supposed to be good through the end of Rendell's second term. Sewage was not an issue on the radar in ’04, and I’m not sure health care for retiree’s is figured in the mix. By the way, according to the acting controller, total Pittsburgh debt is around 1.8 billion. The 800 million figure the mayor mentioned on Sunday is in there, but that doesn’t include obligations incurred by Authorities.

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