Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Right now

Right now (12:10, July 30) City Council is debating the amended Act 47 plan. It was further amended by the Act 47 team, several of Council' amendments made it into the new amended plan, but now Council has to vote up or down on it. Pat Dowd is apparently threatening to vote no, perhaps to have that on the record. He is probably right that this plan does not go far enough, that the State is not giving the City enough help to recover. But if you look around, at the State level budget impasse, at the US Congress's fumbling, at the history of government in general, it is pretty useless to blame other entities for not giving you more. Pittsburgh needs to attract more business and more people. I don't know how, but that's what we elect Council to figure out.

By tonight, or late this afternoon, we will know the fate of the amended plan.

Friday, June 19, 2009

If a ruling falls over in the forest ...

And in the biggest little story almost no one noticed, Judge Wettick ruled that he can’t work out a schedule for the County to begin assessing properties because the State Supreme Court has not ruled on the County’s request for a 180 temporary delay (injunction, temporary stay, something or other) for the County. The County, in turn, wants the delay in case the legislature decides to act on a statewide system of property assessments. Never mind that the legislature has had … the whole of human history to act on this issue before now. But another 180 days should be just the ticket. After all, its not like there is anything else on the legislature’s plate, not like there is a budget in deficit or even Pittsburgh’s laundry list of exceptions (requests for taxing power so the citizens don't have to pay for frivolities like pensions and debt) to consider.

Meanwhile, the County gets what it wants, a delay before the official delay is even ruled on. No new hearing on establishing an assessment schedule is scheduled, or even could be scheduled, until the State Supreme Court schedules a hearing to rule on whether to grant the County's request on a delay of re-assessments.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What should we do?

I have started, and not finished, two other posts here. I haven’t fully thought through what I want to say on those topics (both roughly about environmental concerns), but right now it seems important to look seriously at the amended Act 47 plan.

Of course, I did no reading tonight, while we waited to see if a tornado would land nearby. But I am aware of what happened today in Council’s chambers. Over on the Pittsburgh Comet Bram seems in favor of trying to renegotiate the amended plan, to limit the tax increases on Pittsburghers and I am not sure what all else (have the State pool municipal pension plans? Unless we get money from the State or other cities in the deal, why?).

But lets look at this. Actually I want to step back, and look at how the State is talking about raising the income tax a half percent and cutting services by something like 200 million. My feeling is that if we charge in and demand to be allowed to tax commuters while we dodge any taxes on ourselves, the State legislature wll not be amused.

But let’s say we raise the local income tax by a half percent. Let’s say we ask the State Legislature to waive the rule this time that says we can’t take a tax windfall when the County gets around to reassessing. That’s two significant tax increases on City residents. The we could to go to the State and asked for the freeze on the parking tax, a payroll preparation tax on non-profits, and a more measured increase in the local services tax, say 2 dollars a week for people making over $24,000, the same dollar a week for people making between $12,000 and $24,000 and still allowing people making under $12,000 to pay nothing. Now the State would be presented with a Pittsburgh that was making efforts to be responsible in terms of revenue. The State legislature could require all of the LST go towards either pension or debt, and the same with the tax on non-profits (we could propose it).

That is the way we should approach the State and this whole amended Act 47 plan. By doing a lot ourselves and then asking the State for help.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Mayor Ping Pong Ball ...

I am still guilty of ignoring my readership. There are things happening now, something with an audit of the Housing Authority, for example, but I have been largely unmoved to speak. The Mayoral race is a disappointment. Truth to tell, the low turnout in the primary probably means that all of Dowd’s supporters came out, and weren’t nearly enough. Which is to say that a higher turnout would have probably resulted in a much higher victory margin for Ravenstahl. So it is hard to see how two independent candidates have a chance. Some people may get excited about voting for the son of a famous Steeler. And some may be excited about voting for Kevin Acklin, for whatever reason. But that will not be enough to overcome the straight “D” lever pullers.

Meanwhile, the Mayor is again demonstrating the rock steady principles that have so distinguished his career. Before the election, the Mayor made a point of taking credit for lowering taxes (actually mandated by the first Act 47 five year plan). When the amended Act 47 plan came out a day after the primary, the Mayor waited one day before announcing that he was excited that there is now this opportunity to get the City’s finances on a sound footing, by keeping taxes on parking at their current level, and raising taxes on people who work in the City and on non-profits. Now City Council, having read the plan through and calculating their own political futures, has decided the amended Act 47 plan must be further amended. And lo and behold, the Mayor’s budget person (Scott Kunka) said that the Mayor now “wants "refinements" and "revenue enhancements."” to the amended Act 47 plan. It’s no wonder that Bill Peduto charged the Mayor has shown no leadership on this issue.