Today’s Early Returns column has it just about exactly right. The Mayor has been handed a piece of political dynamite which could derail his career in many ways. The bill the council approved, to keep the parking tax rate at 45%, not only defies the state legislature. It also throws a wrench into a complicated set of negotiated taxes and deals made to get Act 47 going.
Now, I don’t believe Act 47 was ever designed to get Pittsburgh fully out of its mess. I personally believe it was simply designed to keep Pittsburgh afloat until there was a new governor. Act 47 seemingly has nothing to say about debt and pensions (except maybe lots a luck). Motznik’s bill actually has the virtue of addressing those problems in a tiny way.
But the state legislators from around here tend to represent either the suburbs, the city and the suburbs, or have no power. Suburbanites have been paying the $52 EMS tax to Pittsburgh if they work in city limits and the jacked up parking rates. They are going to demand to their legislators that they stop Pittsburgh from bailing out its debt and pension problems on the backs of those from suburbia who are foolish enough to work in the city limits.
The Mayor has to know the legislators are not going to be sympathetic when he goes to see them, but if he doesn’t sign this bill he is going to have to tap dance fast to explain why he didn’t, to council and a public tired of a financially distressed city.
Meanwhile, I keep saying the ICA team for sure, and maybe the Act 47 team, have to approve the Mayor’s budget. They may act as the legislature’s heavy, throwing the budget back to the Mayor with recommended cuts. They could do that for a while, tying up the Mayor’s attention.
The last paragraph of that part of Early Returns is interesting:
“One card the mayor could yet play: A Dec. 15 legal opinion by Solicitor George Specter finds that the city's "home rule powers do not permit it to exceed the rate restrictions adopted by the General Assembly in Act 222," which set the schedule for the parking tax reduction to 35 percent by 2010. There's nothing like a legal opinion to get council members to change their votes. We here at Early Returns just wonder why the mayor didn't use it prior to today's vote.”
So the Mayor can say that council has overstepped its bounds with this bill and refuse to sign. But maybe he’d better do that soon.