Friday, January 30, 2009

Feeling Kinda Friday

Everybody's gearing up for the big game around here, and the news front is pretty quiet here if you don't care that Ben got caught stretching and more snow is falling.

A chink in Cranberry's armor has appeared though. I'm not too sad. I find that there already enough malls in the area that I avoid like the plague. But I've also never actually gotten off the highway in Cranberry. It's not too surprising that PennDOT is taking the blame in this failure.

Does PennDOT actually want Western Pennsylvania to fail? Between closing the major artery to Oakland for a year to planning mass devastation to Route 28 to now preventing a new shiny mall in Cranberry, it sure seems like it. There has got to be a way to reconstruct Route 28 without literally shutting down parts of this major artery for 6 months. Crawling through rush-hour traffic on Route 28 last night, I day-dreamed about a commuter rail on this artery. Instead, we'll be spending our stimulus money on wreaking havoc on commuters while we build more lanes. Thankfully, I work from home, so it's hard to get too angry. My ire is mostly reserved for the nearby evils like the Department of Public Works.

This whole post is feeling like a day-dream. I guess it's the lull before the Super Bowl storm.

Go Steelers!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


"City sources" say there will not be a parade if the Steelers win the Super Bowl - or as Mind Bling says - WHEN the Steelers win the Super Bowl.

Why? You ask.

"Concerns are that the cost would be a budget buster and the parade would cause safety issues."

Bull Shit.

Onorato, Ravenstahl, and Rendell are willing to take time off to fly down to Tampa?

They're willing to hold pep rallies and have a Terrible Tree? They're willing to make terrible bets and change their name?

But no parade?

Indianapolis had a parade in 2007.

The Giants had a parade in 2008.

And no Steelers parade?

Bull shit.

If it's a money issue - ask for a $1 donation from everyone that shows up. The quarter million should cover it.

Safety issue? Give me a break. Too many people downtown? If only that was a regular problem. Oh, no. They had to arrest 34 people last time or 0.0136% of the attendees. Sounds like a manage-able crisis to me.

Or maybe RavenSteelerstahl thinks that only elected officials should celebrate a victory?

Bull shit.

Snow Days

When does Lamb get to run for County Executive? Can't he run for mayor? I seriously love this man. He performs audits on the snow plowing in the city. How cool is that??? Of course, this is on top of his audits for Pittsburgh City Council and emergency services and who knows what else.

Not too surprising he found that lots of streets in the South Hills get the shaft because they simply don't exist in the plowing routes. Whoops. He did acknowledge (and I've seen first-hand report of this) that the city's new smaller-fleet is addressing some of the issues for these smaller streets. For instance, my street was plowed during the last storm - all the way down to the bottom - within 12 hours of the "storm" starting.

However, there is no two-way communication within the Department of Public Works. As far as I can tell, one calls 311, makes a snow removal request, and the request goes into the void of the DPW. If you call back, they make another request. This "strategy" back-fired for me 2 storms ago when the salt truck neglected to make it all the way down my street. It took them 5 days (and many 311 calls, emails, etc.) to return.

The jury is still out on this "storm."

Do You Want a Pepsi With That?

Forget those funky bike racks that litter the city of Pittsburgh pretending to be works of art. Instead, Councilman Peduto says we should have ads on our bike racks. That's how you know that biking has hit the mainstream.

Next, we'll have McDonald's billboards on our bike-ways.

And then we'll have the Consol Energy state park with ads on the trail markers.

When does the commodification stop?

Seriously, though, if the city can get "free" bike racks attached to its parking meters. I guess that's cool. Though I have to wonder about a plan that's intended to bring more advertising money into the Parking Authority just in time to lease the parking authority and meters. And are we just one step away from metered bike parking?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Even In Cloudy Pittsburgh

When I drove through the countryside of cloudy Germany this summer, I was amazed to see that almost every barn was littered with solar panels.

Imagine looking up to the slopes from the South Side flats and seeing every other rooftop lined with solar panels. It's almost as iconic as a windmill atop Mt Washington - and probably easier to get the permits. (Of course, you wouldn't see the panels because they would have to be south-facing, but it's still a nice image.)

The only way this happens here or there is through tax breaks and subsidies. Can the city of Pittsburgh afford those tax breaks? Don't be ridiculous.

In reality, though, thanks to a Federal grant, Pittsburgh will have a solar water heater being installed in a firehouse by next fall. We do have a solar cell manufacturer in our backyard. And we do have a workforce that needs a break from being re-educated to draw blood. However, we will need to push Obama to keep up with solar tax credits and more if my dream is to ever become a reality.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Unfare To Me

The Port Authority needs to hire someone to work on their marketing. You don't say this:
A fare increase "in line with inflation" is likely Jan. 1 in any event, he [Steve Bland] said.
In the next 18 months, Port Authority will be unveiling the results of their big study to streamline the bus routes and make them more efficient and profitable. Yet "in any event", we can expect a fare increase???

Give me a break.

However, I'm really excited to see these new plans introduced. There has been an extremely thorough investigation of all of the existing bus routes in Pittsburgh with some very practical recommended results. My favorite? Run the 28X every half hour. People getting off a flight shouldn't have to worry about looking at a schedule and meeting the bus at 9:42.

I'm sure there's going to be some major kick-back on a major re-routing of the bus routes in this city. I only hope that Port Authority sticks to their guns and actually implements the new plan without some major compromises. It would help if it got some local leadership support to push it through.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Price Of Tea In China

Why should we be excited to be in the Super Bowl?

After the Olympics were in Greece, tourism sky-rocketed for that beautiful country. The recent Olympics held in China did more for opening up the world to the wonders of China than any marketing campaign ever could with athletes walking on the Great Wall and reporters sampling food in the markets.

These national and international events are not just about the sport. I remember in the 90s when the Super Bowl was held at the New Orleans Superdome and all-of-a-sudden Massachusetts was flooded with recipes for Jambalaya and Gumbo. What did that have to do with football?

The spotlight is on Pittsburgh, Arizona, and Tampa right now. Bask in the glow. Promote yourselves.

Why would the New York Times be writing articles about Pittsburgh?
Why would a St Louis beer program come on yelp to ask about Pittsburgh beers?
Why would the Miami Herald write an article about Pittsburgh?

The Steelers are in the Super Bowl.

We, as a city, have a symbiotic relationship with the Steelers. From the guys who freeze their asses off selling black-and-gold everything at the Strip to the head honchos that own the gazillion parking spaces adjacent to Heinz Field. The Steelers make money. We make money. We get publicity.

Why not embrace it?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Sign Of Worried Folks

The Steelers are going to the Super Bowl and Obama was inaugurated this week.

So what is the theme of the "most e-mailed" stories from the Post-Gazette?

Ouch. I guess we do care about something besides football.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

On Population and Transportation

How many of us have invited out-of-towners to visit and had them be shocked about how nice Pittsburgh actually is? How cool the bridges and museums are? How sweet all the old architecture and stained glass is? How funky all the coffee shops and art galleries are?

For me, it's the never-ending story. (To which I respond, why else do you think I would have moved here??? Masochism???)

So maybe we should be focusing on getting more people here? It's a noble goal of VisitPittsburgh and the ever-green convention center. However, we all know those organizations are pretty pathetic and clearly they aren't getting the message across on a broad scale. Plus, it doesn't solve the actual getting-here problem.

The New York Times and Forbes are attempting to deal with the attitude problem.

So we're left with the problem of accessibility.

It's hard to get a non-stop flight here unless you're coming from Baltimore, NYC, or Boston - places that already have a gazillion non-stop flights. We can't even fly non-stop to Harrisburg.

The interstate and intrastate train and bus situation is horrendous. Either you transfer 3 times to get anywhere worthwhile or take about 3 times longer than the equivalent car trip. The brand-new Steel City Flyer is the one exception to the rule. And now we're tolling the hell out of people who dare to take the turnpike. Interstate 80 is barely holding on as the one bastion of free-riding left in the state.

Heck, we haven't even actually finished the Great Allegheny Passage, the bike route between DC and Pittsburgh.

Unfortunately, we are inconvenient and out of the way of every major tour itinerary around the country. How do we fix that?

I don't know. But it seems to me that intrastate and interstate initiatives are a good start. Why don't we start working with Cleveland or Philadelphia? Instead we're fighting Toledo's population count, and all these mid-size cities are fighting for their own pieces of pie instead of realizing that Toledo is a stop on the future high-speed train to Chicago. These are the big nation-changing projects that I'd love to see Obama's stimulus package devoted to.

This is a recurring theme on the Burgh Diaspora who loves the term Cleveburgh. And I'm coming around to the idea. Let's think bigger. Pittsburgh has a great central location. Let's stop Pittsburgh from being the end of the line.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Proud to be in Pittsburgh

Steelers going to the Super Bowl and Obama inaugurated. What a week.

Looking forward to seeing democracy in action unfold over the next year in Pittsburgh, too.

To those who doubt, realize that if a truly good candidate comes along, Pittsburgh will see it. Remember that the "ignorant" and "racist" city of Pittsburgh helped bring Obama to this moment. Not the suburbs. Not Butler county. Not Beaver County.

Today, I'm proud to be in Pittsburgh.

UPDATE: I won't be there tonight, but I wish I could be. I hope everyone celebrates responsibly.

Monday, January 19, 2009


Tonight, I'm just happy we're going to the Super Bowl.

Screw you, Wall Street Journal.

I paid my drink tax tonight.

It's hard to take sportsmania as a negative sign. There was so much goodwill and happiness (and drunkenness) last night. Who said sportsmania was a substitute for economic success? Can't we just like our sports?

And we do have a sweet football stadium.

Friday, January 16, 2009

On Property Tax

For those of you who may have missed it, Onorato attempted to address my property tax question during his cyber town hall meeting. I was pleasantly surprised to see my question addressed and not tossed aside. I was also pleased to hear him attempt to tackle other tough questions, and I was pleased to see him reaching out to the community, especially involving high school students, in such a down-to-earth accessible manner.

However, I have to say I wasn't completely satisfied with his answer.

He made many points (which I've paraphrased below.)
1) The 2001 and 2002 assessments were performed very poorly.

I have no idea why there were back-to-back re-assessments in this county. That was before my time. Clearly, there is absolutely no need to waste tax-payers money re-assessing every single year. I'd be perfectly happy with a planned 3-4 year cycle of re-assessments.

2) The city spent a lot of money and time on appeals relating to the 2001-2 re-assessments.

If those re-assessments were performed so poorly, then the team should be fired, and a new re-assessment team should be hired. If 180,000 people filed appeals, that's a broken re-assessment system.

3) He canceled the 2006 re-assessment (which he is proud of.)

Let me share a story. While I was living in Connecticut, the state found that the emissions testers were corrupt. They temporarily canceled all emissions testing in the state while they attempted to create a new clean system. Then a few years later, they re-started emissions testing with the new system in place.

If Dan Onorato were in charge of emissions testing in Connecticut, his analogous response would have been to cancel emissions testing forever because the particular system wasn't working. He would defend this stance for the rest of his term by pointing to how corrupt the old system was.

4) He said that 85% of property values increased when properties were re-assessed.

Let's get something straight. Housing prices (in a normal society) increase. It's perfectly natural and expected that prices will increase. In fact, if housing prices didn't increase we'd be in trouble. HOWEVER, the increased value of an assessed house SHOULD NOT mean increased property tax. When values go up, the county or the city or whomever, SHOULD adjust the mill rate DOWN so that the net result for them is about the same. Is there a law against that in Harrisburg???

He said: "County school districts and the municipalities all base their property taxes off the assessed values". If these school districts and municipalities refuse to lower their mill rate, then they are ripping off their citizens. That is where the offense should be - not the ridiculous stance of pretending property values haven't changed in 40 years.

5) Other counties around us follow the base-year assessment strategy.

In summation, Dan says all the other counties are refusing to fix the system, so why should he?
If all the other counties can break the law and propagate inequity, why can't he?

Dan, stop whining and do something about this unfair setup. That's how you'll prove you're capable of being governor.

Skewer Me Now

As a preface to this post, I thoroughly expect to be mocked and criticized for supporting Ravenstahl's plan here. Please, feel free.

But I'm trying to figure out why Ravenstahl's new idea to lease the parking garages and take any lump sum profit to throw at the pension fund is bad? How is it not a great idea in fact?

Should the city really be involved in the day-to-day running of parking garages?

Chicago leased their parking garages for 99 years and made $563 Million.

According to the 2007 Annual Report, Pittsburgh Parking Authority appeared to make an operating income of $13 Million.

To offset that, we pay into the pension funds upwards of $38 Million per year. I'm going to make a radical assumption that we could cut that down to $25 Million per year (and cut Parking Authority's profits out of the budget) if we could inject a huge amount of cash into the pension funds. Similarly, we have a relatively small amount of debt associated with the Parking Authority - $100 Million. Chicago had $278 Million. Chicago's garages were only bringing in $5 Million per year as opposed to our profit monsters.

Of course, I have a few questions.

1) Why are people so concerned about parking rates going up? I understand parking is difficult to find and expensive in this city. It's supply and demand. Without the city of Pittsburgh subsidizing parking garages, this will turn into a true capitalist arrangement. The city of Pittsburgh will continue lowering their parking tax rate. And if people continue to fill expensive parking garages, they will be expensive. If people are willing to take the subway from Station Square or the up-and-coming North Shore Connector, they'll save money. They'll save even more money if they take the bus. Will businesses really leave the city because rates go up a few dollars? And will rates really go up more than the market can bear?

2) Is this plan really going to fly in the face of a nation-wide recession? Did Ravenstahl pick some really poor timing to ask folks to pony up a few hundred million dollars? Does any business have that ability right now?

If Ravenstahl pulls this off and can get our pensions to a point where we expect them to be healthily funded, then he might actually earn his landslide victory this time around in spite of his ridiculousness.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Less Than $20 Million

According to the Steelers and VisitPittsburgh, the home AFC championship game should bring in $20 million to the city on Sunday. That's on top of the $18 million for last week's game.

And how much extra are these games adding to the drink tax coffers alone? I'm going to make an educated guess and say that if you take the drink tax profits from Steelers Sundays, that alone will easily land you $1 Million per year.

The North Shore Connector is costing the county 3.33% of its total cost - or about $15 million. Even if it balloons to a $600 million project, that's still less than $20 million in local funds.

Don't you think a new subway line is worth 1 home Steelers championship game?

I can go over the Port Authority spiel that this paves the way for future T lines. Or that this will add yet another fringe parking area alleviating traffic and parking woes downtown. Or that this will encourage more development on the North Side which needs some help right about now.

But instead I'll tell you why I think it's not a horrible idea.

When out-of-towners or former Pittsburghers come back to visit in droves, it's for one of two things. The holidays and Steelers games.

Theoretically, we want to give these people a good impression. We want them to think their city is improving. We want them to go back to where they live and say good things about Pittsburgh. We want them to tell their friends, so that when they get a job offer and they're deciding between Houston, Texas and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, they remember that they heard Pittsburgh was sweet. They choose Pittsburgh.

How do we impress these people? We give them slick public transportation where they're going to use it. To the Steelers game and to the airport. Assuming this risky bet works, then those people will get up and move here. Then we'll have some money in our pockets and we can do more practical less flashy things like actually get people between Oakland and Downtown.

And all for less than $20 million.

But the most important thing to realize is that this is just a piece of the puzzle. If we actually want a world-class transportation system (which we do, right?), then this is a necessary piece of that puzzle. Might as well build it first if we have the money and it can attract and impress some people. We just can't stop here. I don't care if it takes another 50-100 years. (I have faith that Pittsburgh and this country will still be around then.) But we need to keep building and planning and thinking big and we will get there.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Fire Bill Steigerwald

Dear Pittsburgh Tribune-Review,

Please fire Bill Steigerwald.

I haven't read such vitriol since reading about Nazi Germany in high school.

Oh, wait but that's fitting. He compares talking positively about Pittsburgh to talking positively about Nazis.

He goes on to spout ridiculous fallacies:

Nor did the Times note that Pittsburgh’s ever-dwindling, ever-aging, relatively poor and under-educated population (down in the city to 310,000 from 650,000 about 50 years) is subjected to crippling high taxes and deprived of basic city services like reliable snow-plowing.

Does he live in Pittsburgh? I do. My street gets plowed. I'm not "crippled" by high taxes. And nullspace has many many things to say on our young people NOT fleeing. Under-educated population??? Is he a moron?

Yes, we're in debt. But we're hardly alone in that. NYC was in ridiculous debt in the 70s yet somehow managed to become the poster-child for our country. They still haven't paid it off.

Yes, there are school problems, but as far as I can tell, Pittsburgh has some programs in place that are trying to address these issues. And please give me a city that doesn't have problems with schools. Maybe Philadelphia? How about LA?

You see, cities that have pioneered deindustrialization, shed huge chunks of population and shifted to service economies that run on curing sick people, college kids and government bureaucrats, as the former Steel City basically does, are now recession-proof, the rationalizing goes, because they’ve essentially been in low-grade recessions for decades.

Bill seems to be the only one in the country who thinks that an economy based on health care and education is a bad economic plan. Have you seen the number of Rite-Aids and CVSs that litter the landscape? And if a 3.9% unemployment rate is low-grade recession, he must think the whole country's been in a recession for decades.

This is a man who clearly hates his hometown, the city of Pittsburgh. Please, don't continue to pay him to write about it. He's pretty old. If you feel bad about kicking him to the curb, you can couch it in terms of your recent buy-out.



Full Circle

So Luke has changed his mind on campaign finance reform. He and my best friend Dan are teaming up to pass a law in city and county council to limit campaign contributions.

The question on everyone's mind is why did Luke change his mind?

If this law had passed 6 months ago, Luke wouldn't have been able to save his pennies from the DeSantis campaign where he didn't even bother with television commercials. Now, there's no way in hell it will be preventing him from using his little "war chest."

And why should a man whose friends can convince Bill Clinton to have a little fundraising luncheon for him nowhere near an actual election care about individual campaign limits? $750,000 in one day on $500/plate sandwiches is enough for almost any local campaign.

My bet is on Luke ultimately running for the highest office in Allegheny County after his stint as mayor and leaving the city to hot-head Shields or Dowd whose claim to fame appears to be that he has held public office as long as the Mayor. I can't wait for these debates.

My questions?
1) If it's so important for us all to be the same, why not just follow Philadelphia's example?? Do individuals really need to contribute $4600 instead of $2600. They also have some pretty slick safeguards such as accounting for inflation every four years. Importantly, Philadelphia's law has already held up in court.

2) As Chris Potter says, why aren't campaign contributions posted online? Transparency had better be a part of this bill or the likelihood of its actually getting enforced are slim to none. And can we please take this as an opportunity to combine county and city forces to have ONE campaign contributions website?

My vote? If there is a multi-millionaire in the audience, give a million to Ms Robinson. Let's shake things up around here.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Break the Yoke

What do my favorite Mexican tienda and my favorite 50s style diner have in common? They're in blighted neighborhoods along light-rail tracks. Between tax dollars for transit-area development, the drink tax, and a general scare of gasoline prices, public transportation and these potentially vibrant areas are getting even more attention.

Not surprisingly, people are discovering it's fun to break the yoke of the car. Even if they have to commute to work during the week, they're excited to walk to their quaint neighborhood market on the weekend and not deal with the evil demon of Penn DOT road-closings. Or maybe after sitting in rush hour traffic to get home, they just want to walk over to the neighborhood bar for happy hour. Personally, I learned this lesson after a month of driving in NYC-area traffic.

Up until now, the transit-center focus in Pittsburgh has been on East Liberty. Target, Whole Foods, and the East Busway are proving to be a sound marriage. Now is the time to learn from our lessons and expand. The money is flowing and our neighborhoods need help. Our love affair with strip malls and McMansions can come to an end or at least learn to co-habitate with pedestrian-friendly fun urban environments where going for a walk doesn't have to be on a treadmill and where going out for a night-on-the-town doesn't involve any parking headaches or traffic and where buying a house still can cost less than $50,000.

On second thought, don't redevelop these neighborhoods. I don't want my favorite businesses driven out from high rent prices or over-run with band-wagoners. (Yes, that was a joke.)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Ra Ra Ra

In more cheerleading from the national press, Pittsburgh ranks as one of the top 5 strongest housing markets this year. Now, don't all go try to sell your house at once to mess that up.

That does mean that when you get laid off you may still be able to borrow against your house if you can't afford COBRA payments. "The average monthly cost to that [laid off] worker to continue family health benefits under COBRA was $1,069, or 83.6 percent of the unemployment check." I paid for COBRA for 2 months last year before rolling over into a private health insurance policy. It's damned expensive. Now is the time to do something about health care in this country.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Well That Answers That

The great Pittsburgh hotel mystery that nullspace has reported on has now been solved.

We are now piling up a list of projects in Pittsburgh that had been temporarily shelved in spite of our unemployment rate hovering well under 7.2%.

The projects that I'm aware of that have been shelved:
What does this mean? That unlike what developers were hoping, Pittsburgh is not immune to the dismal economy. However, this list still leaves quite a few hotels to be worked on. And Target is humming along as far as I know.

Of course, sometimes, the delay isn't because of financing, it's because of hooking up the utilities. Even Hofbrauhaus has to wait for the cable guy.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Fools For Black & Gold

Ravenstahl and the mayor of San Diego have entered a bet where one of them will end up looking like a moron. Either Ravenstahl will be in Chargers gear with a surfboard ready to jump in the Allegheny River or Sanders, the San Diego mayor, will don Steelers gear and get ready to ski at Sea World.

This is just the latest publicity stunt that I've heard of on top of the Terrible Tree and the bet by Onorato for the Stanley Cup.

I highly enjoy rooting for local sports, but these antics are along the lines of me voting for McCain because he ate at Primanti's. While local politicians should be more accessible than our country's president, I prefer photo ops with babies at charity events. Instead, politicians wave black & gold in our faces instead of facing a bad economy and questionable leadership. Unfortunately, making a fool out of the mayor of San Diego will not make me feel better about Pittsburgh. And Rendell's getup in a Detroit jersey didn't make me feel better about Pennsylvania.

Seriously, is it someone's job to run around finding donations for stupid bets between cities? Do you call in a special consultant for that serious responsibility?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Puke On This

I can't wait to see what Pittsburgh Hoagie has to say about the health department's response to recent allegations about the rate and quality of restaurant inspections.

I have some questions. Dr Dixon says he has enough inspectors yet has only inspected 90% of restaurants. Huh? He says that violations are often minor and unavoidable, but what about the ones that aren't?

You might think that 90% of restaurants is enough. But I don't. Anyone who's ever gotten food poisoning should agree with me.

50% Is Good Enough For Me

Regarding the new Pittsburgh school policy that no student can earn less than a 50% on a test, it is NOT "mathematically sound". However, that does not mean that the program is bad. I'm excited to see administrators trying out new policies instead of just sticking to the same old policies that weren't working. Administrators have their hearts in the right place here, it just remains to be seen whether it will work. The true test will be if the nameless administrators find out it doesn't work, will they back it out? Will they adjust it? Or will they insist on following through with a bad idea?

I see 3 main scenarios in students:
1) The "good student". This student doesn't want to get an F period. They have a caring family and if a bad week happens and their grandpa and dog die in the same week and they skip a test - they get a get-out-of-jail free card. Still, if you have an A or B average and you get a 50 on a test, it will knock you down a grade. Period.

2) The "slacker". This person just wants to get out of school as quickly as possible. Maybe they have other responsibilities. Maybe they just want to loaf at the mall. Well, they still have to pass. If they do as little as possible, and skip a few tests, they could still pass. They could cheat the system. But there are all sorts of ways to cheat the system. If you want to be a "slacker", I don't think this is going to make a difference.

3) The kid who's trying and deserves a chance but their best friend got shot last week and it's thrown them for a loop and they screw up for a month straight. Now they have a chance to make up for some lost time, learn the material they missed and pass for the year.

I think this process working is dependent on a few things though.

First, tests have to be cumulative and get increasingly more difficult during the year. The kid actually has to learn something. For instance, if it's math, and the kid fails the test on long-division and never learns it because the other tests don't cover it, that kid shouldn't pass. Otherwise, you're just pushing problems along.

Second, teachers can't be scaling the grades. A 50 has to remain failing. Students must realize that a 50 is failing.

How is it being implemented? I don't know. I'm sure it varies by teacher, by school and even by student.

What do I know? This isn't "mathematically sound". It's giving a second chance to kids. It's helping kids out. It's a potentially good idea. And the administrators need to work with the teachers to come up with a compromise if it's not working. And if the majority of teachers are upset about it, it's not working as is.

But speaking of good ideas for our city school system, I just wanted to throw out a shout-out to the Pittsburgh Promise. I'm looking forward to seeing your report card in 2009.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A Good Spin

I've got to hand it to him, Dan Onorato took the drink tax loss in stride. He's not appealing the court case (on the taxpayer's dime) and he's making some sense in his smarmy way.

The county budgeted $6.3 million for Port Authority projects this year, money from the county's general bond sales. Onorato wants to add $3 million to that because the authority successfully negotiated a contract with its unions, he has said.

I'm perfectly fine with Dan spending the money on Port Authority capital projects instead of Port Authority operating expenses (if just because it includes my pet project.) I'm even okay with Dan withholding an extra $3 million this year because Port Authority did only request $9 million for capital projects, and I don't exactly trust Port Authority to make the best decisions as to what to do with the money either.

Of course, neither does the state. A year ago, the auditor general said we "can no longer wait" on reforming Port Authority's board of directors. Yet nothing has happened. Might as well put the money where something is actually being done with it, inefficiently though it is.

Monday, January 5, 2009

More Money For Dan to Justify Spending on Roads

Allegheny County has been awarded $5.5 million from the Housing & Economic Recovery Act of 2008. Pittsburgh has gotten $2 million - the minimum permitted under law because the city and area have barely been hit by this national crisis.

It's ironic to me that Allegheny County is whining about needing to increase property taxes when the rest of the nation is severely suffering with foreclosed homes and abandoned properties. Shouldn't we be doing relatively well? Why is the county having a hard time balancing its budget? Does it have to do with a new sports facility?

Well, Allegheny County, here's some extra money for your budget. Under the act, the money is intended for "states and localities to buy foreclosed homes standing empty, rehabilitate foreclosed properties and stabilize the housing market." I'm sure that Onorato can find some way to justify spending this money on roads and bridges. Houses are adjacent to roads after all, and you can't have a stable housing market without nice roads.

I will end this post with a (lengthy) plea to County Council:

I don't care if you raise property taxes, but pretty-please-with-a-cherry-on-top, re-assess property values. I'm echoing the Pittsburgh Comet here and I whole-heartedly agree with him.

Heck, you may find out that you don't need to raise the millage rate if your collecting money on housing values that actually reflect the cost of housing in this area. Pittsburgh and Allegheny County did not as a whole experience the housing boom of areas like Boston and San Francisco. However, certain neighborhoods have, like the South Side, and certain neighborhoods have had plumetting housing values over the past 6 years. It's ridiculous to double-penalize folks who live in houses whose values have dropped significantly, while double-rewarding folks like me whose property values have increased. Make me pay my fair share. Because I guarantee that I'm not about to make a donation in good faith to the county.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Judge Olson is My Hero

The drink tax funds are only to be used for Port Authority.

(The busman already posted this news, but I still needed to express my gratitude.)

Just to make this more than a 2-line post, I'll add some justification on supporting this decision besides just wanting Mr Onorato to lose and my smart card fanaticism.

If Mr Onorato can decide to use this money on anything "related to transit", what's to stop him from habitually collecting more than he needs and just adding another meaningless tax? We will never have "enough" money for repairing roads and bridges in this county. And aren't sidewalks related to transit? And water drainage? And snow plowing? Doesn't the County Executive need his own H2 to drive around the county and inspect transit issues? Would it really surprise you if next year similar items showed up under ways to use the excessive drink tax? Would it surprise you in 5 years if they raised the drink tax to pay for more and more road repair while limiting the amount of money to Port Authority.

The Port Authority last month [October] asked Allegheny County for $9.9 million to leverage more state and federal funds for capital improvements, but County Executive Dan Onorato said the agency will get $6.3 million "and not one penny more" next year.

No, Dan, not "one penny more", how about a few million more? Or do you want to drop the drink tax to 5% now? Not that I'm gloating.

Oh, wait, I'll wipe that shit-eating grin off my face while the county wastes more money that won't be given to Port Authority while appealing this ruling.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Pgh Is My City

I started this blog a little over a year ago angry about the county's ineptness involving the drink tax. Anger quickly followed about the highly-anticipated but shamelessly inept report about merging the city and the county. I wanted merging of city services (for instance dog licensing) but I thought and still think that Pittsburgh is a city. Pittsburgh is my newly adopted city. Pittsburgh is where I've fallen in love with the Steelers and the library, where I've been to baseball games and gallery crawls and seen countless magnificent fireworks displays.

But Pittsburgh is different for everyone. Some fight for it. Some are just learning about it. Some have given up on it, but they all have an opinion.

Pgh is a city
of hills and ours looked down on the Allegheny R...

Pittsburgh is a city of hills, breakneck curves, complex intersections and lousy drivers. ...

I know Pgh is a city.....I know it's not in the middle of small-town where exactly is the diversity?...

Pittsburgh is a city that "stands up and looks you in ...

pgh is a city that is losing population and is DESPERATE for new people ...

Pittsburgh is a city with character unlike any other. ...

In closing, I guess, you can say PGH is a city where you can afford your dreams. ...

My New Year's blogging resolution? Keep doing it.