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board removed, but our city officials such as the Mayor and now the Council President have asked to have Act 47 status rescinded.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.


Schultz said...

"Schultz, look away!"

lol, I have taken my meds and I am now able to read post-election analysis without flipping out. Seriously though, we have a lot of work to do and I think this election will serve as a valuable learning experience.

I am focusing my energy on Pittsburgh's green agenda. Bill Peduto has been on a green tear. I hope his latest legislation for LEED certified buildings gets approval from city council sooner than the two years it took for his green building incentive proposal.

Regarding his policy and proposals on the website - I think I recalled sending someone from the campaign an email about this. On that Issues page they should have replaced the generic statements with some of his detailed plans - or at least had the links to his reports and proposals.

Char said...


In my opinion:

Pittsburgh got "permission" from the state to raise some local taxes, temporarily raise others, and enact yet a few other new ones. I think the reason the state did not give us carte blanche taxing abilities is because they did not think taxing ourselves out of this mess was either an option OR a solution. They (rightfully in my opinion) thought our expense levels AND more importantly our cost structure were the real long-term solutions. They did not believe we would ever have the sense or self-control to tackle the expense/government structure part so they gave us not one, but two oversight boards.

Also, in my opinion, they allowed us the extra taxes because they knew cost-cutting and cost-structure reallighment/consolidation would take time. In other words, they gave us the TIME we needed to make the cost structure changes we needed.

They were sort of right about the two boards. Their mistake? They should have either given us two boards who would beat us over the head and MAKE us do the right thing .... Or they should have possibly given us 4, 5, 6 oversight boards.

Why? Because a few years have passed, we've ENACTED a few cost-cutting measures that were forced upon us and we've done little else except whine about how Harrisburg hasn't saved us yet. Those "temporary" extra taxes are winding back down to "normal" levels. The ones in place to give us time to sqaure ourselves away. But we're not squared. We're just looking at the same old deficits and red ink that faced us before we got the temp taxes reprieve.

What do we do? Call for an end to Act 47. Get chummy with Joey King who will sell the city's soul (not his own) to have free reign when the fire contract comes up. And yes, whine some more about how Harrisburg has not saved us yet.

In light of all this ..... how could it possibly be sane to get rid of either board, no matter how impotent they are?

Unless, of course, we've all resigned ourselves to the inevitability of bankruptcy and we just want to get the whole ugly mess over as soon as possible.

EdHeath said...

Char, I think part of the reason we got the power to raise the taxes we did (the $52 Emergency and Municipal Services tax and the parking tax) was to rightly include suburbanites in our troubles and pain. I don’t know but I don’t believe any municipality has the power to raise any tax it wants, although we do seem to have some a few taxing powers. I believe you are right, the major culprit in our troubles seems to be cost structure and related expenses. And we have been dragging our feet and chaffing against the restrictions we do have, resisting making any wide spread choices. We’ve laid off police and other city workers, and then Council and the Mayor talk about vacant slots that need to be re-filled. Apparently the idea of a smaller city government for a smaller city is sinking in slowly.

But I think there were other factors in our getting two oversight boards. Harrisburg is, of course, not a monolith and the negotiations that went into our Act 47 status reflect the various ambivalences about the city held by the members of the Legislature and the Governor. Although the republicans in the Legislature don’t really want to see the city go bankrupt, they want to put the city’s leadership in unpopular light and keep tabs on it. Hence the ICA, made up of members chosen by the legislature, which gets to look over and then approve the Mayor’s proposed budget.

I really can’t guess what is going to happen. The number of wildcards makes a suggestion of how things could go quaint (or droll or laughable or silly – gotta love thesauruses). In the next years Mayor’s proposed budget, will the five year projection still have negatives, three years out then, in it? Will it become a re-election issue for Ravenstahl? How will the state react to these calls to end our Act 47 status, favorably or un-? Will the City Council become more serious, with three new members, about tackling long term issues? Remembering the “Only Nixon could go to China” and the “Only Bill Clinton could sign welfare reform” rule, maybe a lightweight like Luke Ravenstahl is the only one that could reform the city’s finances. Unfortunately, Nixon and Clinton have been identified as obviously very intelligent. The Mayor is identified as intelligent less often.

Frank said...

I think one of the big and overlooked lessons that should be taken from the election is the effect of the Digital Divide on voting trends. The Burghosphere was a vibrant and dynamic platform where many innovative ideas were exchanged, but just like many things in Pittsburgh, it was insulated from the general populace.

The Burghosphere has made great strides in the past few years, but I think it's time to take the next step. It is in every Pittsburgh bloggers interest to expand the local blog market. Why not work with community groups in disadvantaged neighborhoods to help bring people up to speed with technology, and get the online and blogging. Blogging can be a great outlet for people who are frustrated with their lives and need to express themselves, and the Burghosphere is in a unique position to do something about it.

The Blurgh