As I mentioned peripherally in my last post, I met with Mark DeSantis last Saturday (sorry Mom). He does seem to know the issues, and we now know he can pick an interesting policy team, capable yet politically incorrect because so few of them live in the city. I am pretty eagerly awaiting policy output, which I assume I should be able to take from the campaign website.
We chatted about the impending doom of Pittsburgh, among other things. At one point, he stated that he thought the city might not be allowed to go bankrupt, which might be worse than going bankrupt. I remember saying that bankruptcy protection is essentially a private sector function, where you are given “official” shelter from your debtors in one form of bankruptcy or your assets are liquidated in another. I assume your debtors are allowed to write off bad debt, which then has tax implications, to give them a measure of relief (from your folly) as well. So using bankruptcy to describe what a city would go through is using the wrong word.
By the way, I was sent information on the city’s bonds, which I have yet to go through, but there is a report I am finding informative on the city website, the Controllers’ Annual Report. One of the pages lists the city’s debt, inclusive of Authorities, at one billion six. I do not believe that includes healthcare for current and retired employees.
It took a few days, but it occurred to me that one way to describe Mark DeSantis is as a supply-sider. If I’m right, I would say he comes by that inclination honestly, as a Pittsburgh businessman who advises other business people. He talked some about the various business taxes that are placing a heavy burden on starting or maintaining a business here. Some of those taxes were probably created in the Act 47 legislation, but that doesn’t make them an optimal solution for the long run. And in fact, encouraging the growth of for-profit business is probably the best long term solution for the city’s problems.
You can look at it in terms of incentives. Unionized for profit businesses are certainly not going to want to set up here. The taxes are high and the unions have been strong and know how to agi- negotiate. Non-unionized small business in fact might want to start up here because the low cost of living means you could sell over the internet at a bit less than New York prices and still make a profit. But those taxes kill you. Non-profit business have none of the business taxes and few of the unions, so they thrive here, consider Pittsburgh’s number one and two employers, UPMC and Pitt.
I said DeSantis is a businessman, but he is also a policy wonk of sorts (sorry Mark) with a doctorate in Public Policy. Another PhD ran for city council in the primary, fighting what was considered an uphill battle, and worked hard at it for a bit more than three months, knocking on doors. Pat Dowd squeaked by with 81 votes, in a district where four years prior Len Bodack had won with a plurality, less than a majority. Everybody being democrats in the primary, there was none of this five to one ratio to overcome.
Mark DeSantis has said he has been working at his other job, and feels he owes his investors and employees his hard work. Chris Schultz has mentioned here and there (couldn’t find a second link) around the Burghospree that DeSantis has been showing up at meet and greets. I hope it is a lot of meet and greets, and maybe it is. Dr. Dowd managed to knock on a lot of District 7’s doors while still teaching at Ellis, and I would match the schedule of a dedicated teacher against the schedule of a dedicated CEO. But it is easier to walk around and make meaningful contact with a council district than to cover an entire city, even one as shrunken as Pittsburgh.
If Jim Roddy can raise a lot of money for Mark DeSantis some TV air time can be bought. I think personally you can win an election with a good TV ad campaign, but the bar for how good is rising every day.