Thursday, August 27, 2009

Is A Cornered City About To Turn The Corner?

The rehab program is likely to be lengthy and difficult, but the City of Pittsburgh may be exhibiting the initial flickers of recognition that its prolonged financial bender may be near its end . . . or, at least, approaching the beginning of the end.

Not because Pittsburgh has decided to sober up, of course, but instead because adult supervision may be about to be imposed.

A period of petulance is to be expected. The pension board planted a lame press murmur about a lawsuit against the Commonwealth (sure to be every bit as helpful as Yarone Zober's recent public analysis of Tom Caltagirone's career). Firefighters union leader Joe King -- apparently answering a call for the 'absolutely last guy in town who ought to be yapping about grimy politics' -- is moaning about "how politics work." Mayor Ravenstahl, taking a cue from Zober's approach to city-state relations, is publicly asking local legislators, "Don't you represent us?"

The city is insolvent. It is dysfunctional. It has defied reason, actuarial principles, common sense and the self-preservation instinct for decades, squandering money, forgoing revenue and living far beyond its means while failing to fund important obligations. That trajectory is unsustainable. That it has been tolerated this long is madness. That the trajectory seems about to change seems a welcome, overdue development.


Anonymous said...

Turn the corner? I hope. Recognition finally yes, but this plan is not the answer. To help Philly at the great expense to Pittsburgh taxpayers is hardly a trade off.

Infinonymous said...

Any assistance provided to Philadelphia (which apparently will be taxed locally to generate pension funding) does not occur at Pittsburgh's expense. Pittsburgh's financial problems are largely self-inflicted. The city seeks a bailout -- from the state, from the suburbs, from Browns fans, from blind children, from residents of Jupiter -- in an effort to avoid responsibility for those problems.

Is there any evidence that the City of Pittsburgh in general, or the Ravenstahl administration in particular, would be inclined or competent to address the problem? The answer evinced by state legislators seems reasonable.

Anonymous said...

I would agree with you if Philly wasn't using a separate fund in the 90's to make payroll. If State taxpayers didn't bail out the Philly school system. I would agree if the Pennsylvania Municipal Retirement System (PMRS) had the people or ability to absorb Philly's pension system. They don't and that has been admitted by the PMRS. So the Truth as to the reasons why Philly wasn't included should really be told.

The truth is, nothing stops Philly now from going back and asking for more handouts, as they have received so many. They know they will get them, as they have in the past because? They are the biggest City in the State, not because they are run so well.

What did Pittsburgh get? Two oversight boards and the financial costs they incurred for???? Let's get real here. When your retiree's far outnumber current employee's as does Philly and Pittsburgh, there is a drain on the pension systems. The difference is, Philly continues to get bailed out, and Pittsburgh is the step child as our piddly little second class city is something more manageable for PMRS. Oh yeah, and will be a boon for whoever manages those assets. Ahem, pay for play, and you get what you get.

Infinonymous said...

So far as I am aware, Philadelphia is not receiving a bailout. It is to be authorized to impose a one percent sales tax.

Pittsburgh's problem is not a large number of retirees, it is an incompetently administered and consequently underfunded pension plan. With a competently administered pension system, more retirees are not an unexpected catastrophe but instead are a predictable obligation for which appropriate provisions have been made.

Pittsburgh must (eventually) pay its bills or file a bankruptcy petition. In Harrisburg, even Pittsburgh-area legislators have tired of the city's childish conduct. The times they have a-changed.

It is unfortunate that the reckoning appears to be destined to occur on Luke Ravenstahl's watch, because he seems spectacularly unsuited to manage the problem. But the voters who elected him have no one to blame but themselves for that problem, just as Pittsburgh is responsible for its pension meltdown.

Luke may rise to the occasion, he may get out of the way (voluntary or otherwise), he may get trampled. But this thing is now revealed to be too imminent and too immense to be avoided. I expect big events soon.