Monday, June 21, 2010

If Pittsburgh's Residency Rule Makes Sense, Perhaps Protectionism Should Spread To Suburbs

The Post-Gazette editorial board has endorsed the protectionist policy that requires InsolvenCity's employees to live in that city, urging the state legislature to refrain from disturbing that arrangement because "If someone wants to work on behalf of the citizens of Pittsburgh, he or she should be willing to participate in the life of the city."

Would InsolvenCity and its leading newspaper take a similar position concerning corresponding protectionism that, for example, forbade other municipalities' employees from residing in Pittsburgh, or rendered City of Pittsburgh-based firms ineligible for other municipalities' contracts? If a Pittsburgh police officer can not reside in Ross, why should a Ross officer be permitted to live in Lawrenceville? If a City of Pittsburgh programmer can't live in Leet, why should a Pittsburgh resident or firm be eligible to be engineer for East McKeesport, attorney for Avalon, dogcatcher for Dormont or financier for Franklin Park?

InsolvenCity's residency rule is additional evidence that a government that must rely on walls -- literal or figurative -- to keep people within borders is rarely a good government.

Infinonytune: Living For The City, Stevie Wonder (with Ray Charles)


Bram Reichbaum said...

I don't see how one can report news in Pittsburgh unless one is willing to participate in the life of the city. P-G should require all of its employees to live within city limits, and then reconsider its support of "consolidation" into an Urban-Services District of the county for example.

n'at said...

The reporters can stay, but all web developers and IT professionals should live in 1337 Township.

Anonymous said...

... all attractive women should live in Fox Chapel, pioneers in Homestead, knights in Castle Shannon, Shakespearean characters in Verona, and fans of molesting orphans in Mount Oliver. (ba DUM bum!)

MH said...

I don't see what is wrong with a residence rule. Since you can't fire most public sector workers, the best incentive you have to get them to work well is that they have to live with their own mistakes. And I don't see why the teachers are exempt. At the very least, I want the people who eat tax dollars to pay the same taxes I do.

MH said...

The fact that most suburbs could not have a residency rule and fill their positions is only further proof that the region has too many political subdivisions and that many of these subdivisions are not actually functional political units.

Infinonymous said...

The suburban municipalities could solve the "limited universe" problem with a reciprocity provision.

If school districts joined the fun, InsolvenCity might be forced to rescind its residency requirement promptly because most city employees, forced to choose between a job with an insolvent city and a spouse's job elsewhere, might be smart enough to move.

Infinonymous said...


Do you believe a suburban municipality should engage a city-based law firm as its solicitor, or a city resident as its engineering consultant, or a city-based bank as its financier?

Should the suburban municipalities (which outnumber the city in every way) insist that county government -- including the authorities -- refrain from hiring lawyers, accounting firms, insurance firms and other vendors located within InsolvenCity limits? Why should the airport -- located outside the city -- pay (huge) solicitor fees to a lawyer from the East End working at a downtown-based firm?

I do not believe proponents of residency requirements have thought this issue through to its logical end.

MH said...

I do not believe proponents of residency requirements have thought this issue through to its logical end.

And I think the opponents are union reps in disguise. When you get a wage tax shared between the city where you work and the one where you live or Pittsburgh starts benchmarking city salaries against Wilkinsburg, put up a new post and I'll reconsider.

Infinonymous said...

Who would lose more in a border war -- the city, whose law firms, banks and consultants bill tens of millions to suburban municipalities -- or the city, which is fighting over a hundred residents, tops?

Chris Potter said...

"The reporters can stay, but all web developers and IT professionals should live in 1337 Township"

>>> Or 1337sdale.

Actually, I don't have a position in this debate. I just wanted to say that in my opinion, MH and n'at are consistently the funniest commenters in the Burghosphere.

Infinonymous said...

Until several local officials are indicted and convicted, Potter, don't you have better things to do than reading comments on an inconsequential blog?

Unless, of cours you are waiting for the P-G or Trib (or the D.A.) to get the job done.

101 r0f7M4o etc

Anonymous said...

You don't think that there is some responsibility for those who maintain public safety to live among the public they keep safe?

Infinonymous said...

Should the law firm that negotiates the teacher contract for North Allegheny be permitted to be based in the City of Pittsburgh (and therefore not responsible for paying the taxes associated with that contract)?

Should the lawyer who bills a small fortune as airport authority solicitor be permitted to reside in the City of Pittsburgh, where he will not be subjected to the noise, odors and other aggravations associated with the cow that produces his steady stream of cream?

Should a city-based engineering firm be permitted to cash suburban municipalities' checks for work on the Girtys Run problem?

The city can't win these arguments, practically or morally. The Commerce Clause was one of the wiser provisions among the United States' founding documents. And Pittsburgh gains more than it loses from economic interaction; if city residents are lucky, suburbanites won't demonstrate the point.

MH said...

Thanks Chris. I was going to try serious commenting, but there was no point since I couldn't be "The Truth."

The city can't win these arguments, practically or morally.

As anon noted, I think the city can win morally as far as public safety goes. That's not even a hard case given what you see happening when the police are not connected to the community they patrol. The G-20 protestors got the beat down because they were out of towners or locals identified with out of town ideas. People torching Oakland after the Super Bowl caused more damage and didn't get smacked because the police were also glad the Stealers won and able to see most of the kids were just celebrating.

Also, because the city is the core without which the suburbs would not exist, the city has a moral claim to enough income to support its extra infrastructure.

As for practically, the city pays higher wages for most job categories, partially to offset the extra 3% in wage taxes. And if the suburbs get enough specialist law and engineering firms that most suburbs can hire only from within their suburb, that would be a sign that the city has already ceased to function as a workable urban core. It would be beyond insolvent and into super-plus Detroit.

Infinonymous said...

The G20 police spun out of control because of decisions made by Luke Ravenstahl, Paul Donaldson and Nate Harper, before and during the event -- the same guys who oversee the sports parades. But don't take my word for it -- wait for the testimony and verdicts and appellate decisions (if you aren't shell-shocked by the payouts, that is).

The city's problem isn't inadequate income. It is incompetence. Incompetent voters habitually elect numbskulls who mismanage the city into insolvency and inadequacy.

The suburbs don't need to (and would be foolish to) subscribe to an 'every municipality for itself' approach. Instead, they could form a reciprocal agreement in which they would hire people and firms from among each others' residents -- shunning only those whose municipalities refuse to cooperate, such as (barring a change) InsolvenCity.

Detroit's history may be Pittsburgh's future. The suburbs here should probably have cut the cords already. The parking garage sale seems destined to be the point of no return. If the city makes that mistake, expect suburban voters, within a few years, to demand that their elected officials stop propping up the City of Pittsburgh. Cut the ties. Let the anchor sink.

Pittsburgh is stubborn. It well may keep the figurative wall (expect East Germany's result). Keep kicking the pension can down the road (plan to see every property in the city lose a substantial fraction of its value). Keep electing fools (confront the consequences when Harrisburg emulates Paul Sorvino cooking sausages in "Goodfellas").

Brutal judgments over pension obligations. A capsized public transportation system. Abandoned buildings and increasing crime. A wider gap between city and suburban schools, affecting even the best city schools. That is Pittsburgh's future unless it changes course. And we are now discussing the medium term, not the long term. Day of reckoning on pensions in less than five years from today.

Or, the city could change course and attempt to build on some of its advantages. People should root for that, but it's something like being today's Pirates fan, and the remaining Pirates fans are mostly dopes. Still, optimism flickers (for the city, not the Pirates).

MH said...

I'm not about to defend any of our elected officials. There is not a single person in local office who I voted for and none that I didn't vote against if I had any name on the ballot. I agree that the prime thing Pittsburgh needs is better management.

However, I doubt the suburbs could form much of a reciprocal without the city. The interests of most individual suburbs differ as much from other suburbs as it does Pittsburgh. None of them are large enough to lead the others and many of them are poorer than the city. Any change has to come from the city or the county leadership. (I suppose a state leader could do it, if it ever gets hard enough for them to steal public money that they do their jobs.)

As for transportion, Pittsburgh screwed-up just enough to have an advantage over Detroit. We have no good loop and going through the city is the quickest way between one side of the city and the other. Also, we've already lost most of the big employers who could reasonably threaten to move the suburbs. Pitt can't and UPMC would find it very hard to move the big hospitals. Lawyers like to be near court.

And public transit, if a county issue, not a city one.

As for the schools, I am not optimistic, at least in the short run. That's why we use the Catholic Schools.

Infinonymous said...

However, I doubt the suburbs could form much of a reciprocal without the city.

The evidence points in the suburbs' favor. Most of the partners at most city-based law and accounting firms reside outside the city. Were a lawyer with a handful of suburban solicitorships told to choose between moving to a suburban firm and losing those gigs, he'd be looking for an office along McKnight Road or Washington Road by lunchtime. Even those accountants and engineers who live in the city would probably move their families before losing suburban assignments.

If the suburbs really flexed their muscles and moved on county government and authorities, it would be a massacre.

The suburbs would outnumber, outvote, outsmart, and outearn the city.

Hell, just the withdrawal of suburban support for PAT -- which might be coming anyway, when the full tab for PAT mismanagement becomes apparent and the city and county try to raise the drink tax -- would be enough to send the city (downtown, especially) into a tailspin. PAT focuses on the city; most suburban service is fair to pathetic to nonexistent. Suburban voters might vote 2-1 to disband PAT, figuring private operators would handle any suburban routes with genuine demand.

A border war is a fight the city would lose decisively. It would avoid even a risk of a flashpoint if it had any sense.

MH said...

Most of the partners at most city-based law and accounting firms reside outside the city.

They also do very little work for any government agency as they are hugely too expensive. Also, except for you, nobody has suggested trying to make contractors reside in the city. Just employees. Lastly, for this point, until Jobs creates iCourt, most lawyers are going to want their office somewhere near to Grant Street.

If the suburbs really flexed their muscles and moved on county government and authorities, it would be a massacre.

How, I ask directly this time, do you expect that to get organized? The wealthier suburbs have huge numbers of residents that work at Pitt, UPMC or a local law firm. Without that demand, housing prices in the nice suburbs would fall just as fast as in the city. Most of these jobs cannot be moved to the suburbs in any short time frame.

You talk about disbanding the PAT, but there are many suburbs that are just as dependent on the PAT as the city. They are broke suburbs at the far ends of the 61 and 71 buses, but suburbs they still are. Ending the PAT would not hurt the suburbs only if you define suburbs as "where white people live."

Suburban voters might vote 2-1 to disband PAT, figuring private operators would handle any suburban routes with genuine demand.

Except for the downtown or Oakland routes, there are no suburban routes with genuine demand. With private operators, you'd probably see only a few routes being used, all of them going into the city. If you ride around the East End at rush hour, you can figure out that the Squirrel Hill, Shadyside, Oakland routes are very clearly profitable on the city portions of their routes. Anyway, that's as much effort as I'm willing to put into defending the PAT because it is apparently Ken Zapinski's job and because they suck. But what you are talking about is even less workable.

Also, this isn't a border war. It is the maintenance of a long-held status quo.

Infinonymous said...

Most lawyers spend relatively little time in court. Check the Detroit professional firms' experience on this point. Huge offices in suburbs; tiny offices downtown.

Most local lawyers live outside Pittsburgh. The partners are relevant because they are the billing attorneys, they are the ones with solicitorships and other municipally controlled engagements, and they will go where the clients want or require them to go.

Universities, UPMC and professional firms could move many employees out of the city as quickly as economics, social constraints and leases would allow -- and that would be relativel quickly. Many employees would prefer to work in the suburbs, for many reasons.

After the city learns the hard way that Harrisburg is not going to fund a bailout, the city will mend its ways, start making better decisions, chart a more responsible course and . . . . yeah, RIGHT, that the ticket! . . . the city will try to suck cash from the rest of the county. And that is when the feathers could fly. The city is already eyeing the remaining portion of the county drink tax. It is still promoting a commuter tax or some other form of extraction device aimed at suburban wallets.

I support public transportation, but at a practical level the suburbs are far less dependent upon and supportive of PAT. A 2-1 vote of the electorate to strip funding seems a reasonable prediction.

A border war could develop. Until then, the residency requirement is a small, telling window into the city's attitude and strategy.

MH said...

I don't know where you got this lawyer thing. There are maybe a half-dozen local municipalities (Pittsburgh, Mt. Lebo, Fox Chapel, ???) that could afford or would have the need to hire a big firm partner. And none of them have ever tried to restrict this to someone living in their city. And none of the big firm lawyers has ever felt any solidarity with the Pittsburgh Dept. of Public Works employees who face a residence requirment.

Pittsburgh certainly could go the way of Detroit, but it won't be because of a border war. Aside from incompetence, which is hardly limited to the city, the big issue is that centeral city is too small relative to the metro area.

Infinonymous said...

Nearly every municipality has a solicitor. Usually a partner for a firm (doesn't have to be Reed Smith or K&L -- often it's Ira Weiss's firm or a mid-sized firm) is billing attorney, nonpartner does most of the work (because hourly rates relatively low). This is many millions of dollars flowing from suburbs to city -- especially if counting engineers, accountants, bond advisors, etc. -- and could easily be redirected.

The principle (if any) supporting city's residency requirement would support plenty of protectionism by suburban municipalities. As original headline indicated: Perhaps it is time to sauce the gander, if only to break the city's mindset . . .

MH said...

The principle (if any) supporting city's residency requirement would support plenty of protectionism by suburban municipalities.

There is no principle. The union and the people the union elected came to this agreement years ago. Presumably for the right deal (i.e. a salary cut), they could get rid of it now.

There are plenty of other principles lacking. Probably the biggest one is that in most places I have lived where there was a local wage tax, you paid 1/2 to the city you living in and 1/2 to the city you worked in. (It is a little different because I've never heard of a wage tax for a school district except here.)

Infinonymous said...

This union-employer agreement has external effect that invokes plenty of principle. It's as if the union and city negotiators agreed that union members could urinate on Dormont streets.

The City of Pittsburgh sustains a mix of benefits and detriments from a number of circumstances, some beyond its control. UPMC skating on taxes is an egregious wrong, for example.

The city, however, has for many years resembled an indolent, deteriorating smack addict with a trust fund. The situation is self-inflicted, the problem isn't revenue, the solution isn't a bigger trust fund.

MH said...

How is lessing a restriction on city employees (and giving an instant 3% raise to the city employees who actually live outside the city but have a fake address in the city for taxes/forms), not making enchancing the entitlement of the city workers? You are trying to enhance the trust fund of city employees vs. city tax payers. The effect on the suburbs is trivial. Though I'm sure plenty of South Side residents would be happy to have people peeing on the streets somewhere else.

Anonymous said...

I feel like there is a very distinct difference between a private law firm, and a public police force. The law firm can choose to work with a number of clients anywhere they please. The police department has to work for the city that formed and manages it. The downtown law firm can choose it's location the same as can clients. Without serious law changes neither the city nor the Pittsburgh Police Dept. can peddle their wares elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Infi - you are an idiot. If a lawyer represents a municipality (which is very minimal work in the large scheme of things), and that lawyer is the billing attorney (by the way, you outed yourself as a paralegal somewhere), then under your theory the profits are flowing to that attorney and are being taxed where that attorney lives. Give up. You are clueless.

Infinonymous said...

Infi - you are an idiot.

No rebuttal.

If a lawyer represents a municipality (which is very minimal work in the large scheme of things),

For some firms (Law Office of Ira Weiss) and some lawyers (Jack Cambest), engagements as municipal solicitors are meat, potatoes and pudding. Some of the larger firms -- Buchanan, Eckert, Schnader -- earn big dollars (in absolute terms) from government work. (Just who the hell do you think is funding and manning the Onorato campaign?)

and that lawyer is the billing attorney

The focus should be on the client (municipality) and the manner in which it wishes to restrict the residency of those it is willing to pay for services. The "billing attorney" angle is relevant merely to identify the people who would leave a protectionist municipality.

(by the way, you outed yourself as a paralegal somewhere),

Might I suggest a handle for you: Sherlock

then under your theory the profits are flowing to that attorney and are being taxed where that attorney lives.

Not implying that, stating that or giving a damn about it. The point is the interest and policy of the client municipality, and its willingness to send dollars to a municipality that refuses to hire the client's residents.

Give up.

Tempting, particularly when City of Pittsburgh voters ring up another winner in their string of electoral inanities, or the mayor does anything other than get wasted without incident. But . . . nah. Not ready to give up yet.

You are clueless.

No rebuttal.

Thanks for corresponding, Sherlock.

MH said...

My cousin became a paralegal. His parents were upset until they saw how well he bent the spoons.

Infinonymous said...

Caution them against seeing the Amazing Randi -- it would disillusion them

ChrisP said...

People tell me I could have been a good paralegal...then I tell them I'm afraid of heights and could never jump out of a plane....