Parades and vacations behind them, the elected council and mayor of the City of Pittsburgh gathered today to address the city's insolvency and failure (and the Act 47 plan). After the usual juvenile bickering, the city's leaders focused on the business at hand: indulging in fantasy, blaming the city's self-inflicting wounds on others, and demanding handouts.
Mayor Ravenstahl declared declared he would not raise property taxes, or any tax "that will solely be levied on this city's residents." Council member Darlene Harris castigated state government, complaining that state taxpayers and legislators had had five years to provide adequate handouts to the city, yet had not done enough to reward city voters and elected officials for decades of comprehensive dysfunction. Other council members, including Bill Peduto and Patrick Dowd, expressed staunch opposition to any plan that relied on tax increases for city residents.
The Act 47 coordinators' team, speaking through a strikingly impractical written plan, relied on enactment of taxes on nonresidents . . . which would require approval of the state legislature, which is about as likely to occur as a big sale at the downtown Lazarus tomorrow morning.
Read this part with care: The closest thing to a feasible proposal was the mayor's talk about emulating his predecessors' "kick the can" approach by selling the city's parking facilities, much as an equally inept mayor had helped to arrange the current disaster by selling the city's water system (part of a series of desperate, one-time reaches that a former city budget director derided as "gimmicks" designed to mask the point that "the ship in sinking"). (The city sold the water system to avoid imposition of Act 47 restrictions.)
The city's leaders can bark all they want, but they don't deserve a dime of assistance from outside city limits. And they are exceedingly unlikely to get it; the legislative climate in Harrisburg is accurately described by Michael Lamb as "non-starter," even before city officials annoy legislators with baseless and counterproductive whining. This leaves responsibility for the city's fiscal obligations where it belongs -- with the city voters, property owners and officials who created the mess.
Here is my self-help plan: Use a time machine to rescind the sketchy deals that wasted $4 million in public money at Iron City Brewing, avoid squandering $9 million in public funds on Lord & Taylor, and refrain from misusing $23 million in public resources with respect to the downtown Lazarus. Those three corrections alone would generate enough in savings to provide more than two years of the revenue increase contemplated by the new Act 47 plan. And there's plenty more where that came from.
Some may scoff at the time machine element, arguing it is unrealistic. It is at least as realistic, I submit, as anything the mayor has said or could formulate.