Friday, May 22, 2009

Handicapped by the State

First of all, it's not a 5-year plan if it depends on changing the state legislature. When is the last time the state legislature changed a law for the benefit of Pittsburgh? Has it ever happened? Yet, "many of its most controversial tenets couldn't happen without changes in state law that only the General Assembly can make."

4 Ways To Break The Law (by Act 47)

1. The Act 47 planners want the city to (currently illegally) not lower the parking tax this year. In 2007, the mayor smartly vetoed when the city council decided to keep the parking tax high, largely because it was against state law. But also because a 40% parking tax rate is ridiculously high.

2. Additionally, Act 47 are depending on major concessions from the fireman's and other city unions. Major concessions that are currently illegal in the state.

3. The Act 47 planners want the city to both tax non-profits (also currently illegal under state law) AND increase donations from non-profits. Not going to happen.

4. Another idea is asking the state to allow us to change the municipal services tax from $52 / year ( a pathetic pittance) to $145 / year. By the way, by state law, this $52 must currently be deducted evenly through paychecks throughout the year. Sounds like it costs more to implement than it currently collects.

So the state-mandated group is recommending time and again to change state law in a 290 page report. And doesn't have any other solutions for us. How about we cut the state budget by Act 47 planners this year?

But ultimately, this plan shows how the state has handicapped the city of Pittsburgh through years and years of enacting restrictive laws. Is it any surprise that the city is in a fiscal crisis when the city of Pittsburgh literally can't decide how much to tax people who work and live in the city? When they try to come up with creative and questionable ways around these limitations (i.e. raising the parking tax to 50%), the state once again puts the smack-down.

Since, I've been living in Pittsburgh, our glorious leaders Onorato and Ravenstahl have been making frequent trips to beg Harrisburg for solutions to their problems, and these requests have fallen on deaf ears. Do we have to file for bankruptcy before Harrisburg listens?

1 comment:

EdHeath said...

My reading of the amended Act 47 was a bit different. The authors of the plan in fact give us somewhat more flexibility than what I believe was in the first plan. They are hoping the City will find more cuts to make, and more efficiencies to achieve (take-home cars, anyone?). The tax hikes that need approval from the State such as the increase in the EMS tax or the taxing of non profits are failsafe positions, although they might be better described as fall back positions. We are only supposed to go to the State when we have exhausted all other options, according to the amended plan. Of course the Mayor has taken the tax increases as his default positions, and predictably has pissed off local State legislators.

So if we proceed like the plan says to, then the only time we would go to the State Legislature is when we had exhausted every other method of cutting spending and raising the taxes the City directly controls: property, income and apparently a couple of other taxes. If we approached the Legislature saying we had exhausted every other option, we might have better luck. But our boy Mayor has already screwed that up, and already annoyed local State legislators so much they are complaining publicly with comments like the Mayor’s requests are dead on arrival.

There’s a lot I don’t like about this plan, but I think it does set a wise and realistic political tone. Our Mayor, on the other hand, has managed to undue all the work the authors put in balancing political interests within a couple of days of receiving the plan.

By the way, I think the changes in the way the City treats the unions are one of the few things that are likely to get a fair amount of support in the Legislature.