Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The politics of parking indeed ....

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.


Matt H said...

I think the Mayor would be smart not to sign this piece of legislation if it is going to cause problems in Harrisburg.

The smart move is to not sign this one.

According to the law it looks like city council made a mistake.

EdHeath said...

Yeah, Jim Motznik really has shafted the Mayor with this one. Even if Ravenstahl vetoes the bill, Council can over-ride with six votes. The article in today’s PG suggests that the state could hold up the budget or take away tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue. That’s not fair, but even without Act 47 the city has limited control over its own taxes. Really, in some sense the ball is in Motznik’s court, he needs to back down, or Mayor Ravenstahl will go down in history as the Mayor who let Pittsburgh go bankrupt.

Char said...

Motznik would never do anything Luke didn't want. And Luke wants this extra money. Not to pay down the debt or bolster the pension plan. He just wants it to spend on stuff and cronies and the normal vote buying that goes on around here.

My prediction: Luke will not do anything one way or another thereby letting it become law by default. If all goes well, he can take credit. If things bomb, he can blame it on Council.

Will Motznik care if flak comes his way? Is the Pope Catholic?

EdHeath said...

Char, I'm inclined to give the Mayor more of the benefit of the doubt on this than I guess you are. I'm not sure, but if he is paying attention he will realize he now has to perform some damage control on both ends. I don't know how many ways the state legislature can hurt us, but we are exposed to all of them. And he has to convince Council to take there frustrations out on the parking lot owners (including the city lots) another way. He actually has very little time. He may well use this as an excuse to skip Thursday's debate, which I believe was the first actual debate format meeting between DeSantis and Ravenstahl.

Maybe that was the fiendish plan between Motznik and Ravenstahl all along (probably not), but I believe the fate of the city may hang in the balance.