Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The Needle (ow) in the Haystack

It's a shame Bram Reichbaum stopped writing the Pittsburgh Comet. The perfect example is that he posted a (by definition) short message on Twitter: "Sweet Merciful Pete http://is.gd/9syh7 we'd best be careful about how we finally address CBDG $. And why ONLY address Walking Around Money?" The PG story he links to is here. I don't particularly have any Council or media contacts, and it is not like I even have a lot of time right now to follow the news. But assuming the TeeVee news is not covering it, and the PG is only doing as much as I have linked to, I would say this deserves more attention than it is getting.

So the basic story is that Ricky Burgess feels that Community Development Block Grants allocated to Pittsburgh have not been spent entirely on the poorest neighborhoods. It is (apparently) expected that Pittsburgh will get 16.5 million this year.

One issue seems to be that the CDBG's are used to fund City Services in distressed neighborhoods, allowing the City to spend more of its normal operating revenue in wealthier neighborhoods, meaning the services are higher for all neighborhoods. Except that wasn't what the CDBG's were intended for.

Another issue that is likely to get disproportionate interest is that a small part, $675,000, of the CDBG money has historically been split up among Council members at $75,000 each. Burgess wants to pro-rate that based on the relative wealth of the neighborhoods involved. So Natalia Rudiak's portion would drop to $17,495, while Doug Shields part would drop to $32,618. Obviously this doesn't seem to be the way to make friends on council for the man who wanted to be Council President. On hte other hand, it has the sticky value of being fair.

Now, I don't know what Council members get in the way of discretionary money these days. I remember a PG story from years ago about some fund Council members had to spend on themselves (Twanda Carlisle(sp) bought herself books, Gene Riccardi bought picture frames or something?). But I believe this will mean denying money to groups in Squirrel Hill and Shadyside, who might not take too kindly to it.

One of the things that bothered me about the Bush junior administration was that we went to war (in two countries, no less) and the administration made no calls for sacrifice, much less mandating them. To be fair, I believe that was the case for the Korean and Vietnam wars as well. But Bush could have used the fact of wars in the Middle East to call for a higher gas tax, or implemented a 55 mile per hour speed limit, or called for people to conserve energy in other fashions.

Similarly, Pittsburgh has been under Act 47, distressed City status, for over five years. Yet Pittsburgh Mayors, including but not limited to Ravenstahl, have not really called on Pittsburgher's to make sacrifices. Except if Ricky Burgess is correct, the poor in Pittsburgh have been giving up assistance intended to them.

I'll bet they are not surprised.

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