Thursday, December 30, 2010
The latest political buzzword is "Dedicated Funding Stream." The idea is as old as dirt, though. Many of us set aside money every paycheck to contribute to our 401Ks. That's a simple dedicated funding stream. Instead of getting your whole paycheck, plopping it into one big checking account, then deciding how to divvy things up, you set aside a fixed percentage every month to your future retirement that you can't change without lots of annoying paperwork.
Allegheny County's Drink Tax
Back in 2007, County Executive Dan Onorato and his council passed the extraordinarily controversial Drink tax, dedicating 10% of every tipple consumed in the county to pay for the County's share of Port Authority expenses. Now, when it's time to pay Port Authority, the Council doesn't have to slice a piece of the budget pie - that money is already set aside.
City Council's Proposal?
Pittsburgh City Council wants to dedicate future parking rate increase profits to funding the Pittsburgh pensions. I, for one, am a fan of this method. Much like we don't sell our house and put the profits in our 401K and hope for the best, just to get all our savings wiped out in a bad market downturn, we regularly contribute to our future, exercising "Dollar Cost Averaging." If you need an extra reminder why plopping a giant wad of cash onto the problem doesn't fix the problem, you need to only look back to the year 1998 in Pittsburgh. That's when then-Mayor Murphy sold over $250 Million in bonds to shore up the pension fund. All that money has since disappeared in stock market dive after stock market dive while the city continued to contribute the minimum amount possible each year.
What's Next? Will Harrisburg also jump on the dedicated funding stream bandwagon? One can only hope. As it stands now, the Pennsylvania state legislature can barely pass budgets on time while it attempts to divvy up its giant general fund. Most of the time, Port Authority gets the shaft. Let's take the control out of the hands of selfish state legislators and add some transparency to the budgeting process instead of last-minute shady deals to pass the budget. Heck, maybe the Federal government could even learn some lessons here? If I can manage my own budget, surely our governments with their teams of Ph.D. degree-holders and economists should be able to as well.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Thursday, December 2, 2010
Once again, a one-time emergency fix has bailed out the long-suffering public transportation agency. Once again, the ball is back in the State's court to come up with a dedicated funding stream for transit. Perhaps Governor Corbett can rename the Johnstown Flood Tax, which has been making a mockery of that catastrophe for decades in the name of slush funding, to the Public Transportation tax, making a strong stand in this state that if you buy liquor you're funding the drunk buses. Perhaps, they can also start issuing busperks for each case of beer you buy?
Honestly, not only did Rendell save my bus line (and dozens of others) with his dogged attempts to not give up on public transportation even in his final days of office, he also saved this blog. There's only so much defeat this blogger can overcome. So you have one more year of decent bus service, and one more year of me blogging.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
But all is not lost. There's no time like the present to start biking in Pittsburgh. Next Fall, thanks to a final grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, all Port Authority buses will be equipped with bike racks. Currently, about 80% of the buses have bike racks. While your local bus stop (and entire line) may be cut, at least you can reliably bike between home and a further away bus stop. Perhaps it's Allegheny County's long-term plan to reduce its obesity rate which is sitting significantly higher than the national average? Personally, I'd prefer a tax on sugary drinks. A Carnegie Mellon University study last spring showed that a 1% county tax on the drinks would cut usage by 8% and generate $54 Million annually. If we can put the alcoholic drink tax toward Port Authority, why not share the burden with our sugar-guzzling friends? After all, obesity causes more deaths than just drinking alcohol.
But it's not too late for the state to at least restore some of its previous funding and stop shirking its responsibility. Go to keeppghmoving.com and make your voice heard.
Friday, November 12, 2010
India's Minister of Education's goal is to increase the rate of higher education enrollment from its current 12.4% to 30% in 2020. With 400,000,000 people in India under the age of 18, that will create a huge need for more institutions. Currently, foreign universities are not allowed to operate independently in India, but legislation which has been in the process to change that for years seems to be gaining ground. That's what universities like CMU, Ohio State University, and Virginia Tech are betting on.
For Pittsburgh, a city that has reformed itself on the basis of "Eds & Meds," a new opportunity to rapidly expand and monetize the education market can only mean good things for the local economy. I'm happy to see CMU at the forefront on this opportunity. Will CMU become the UPMC of education? Will the University of Pittsburgh or our other local universities join the bandwagon? It's hard to think of a better potential investment.
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Your Western Pennsylvania Election Run Down:
It's a toss-up for which is the most important election this year. Since I'm a proponent of all things local, I'm going to say the race for governor is the most important. Harrisburg once again recently showed that they are completely inept by failing to pass a Marcellus Shale drilling tax. Here in Pittsburgh, our pension crisis is coming to a head because of Harrisburg's inaction. Let's put someone in the governor's chair who actually has a chance of addressing those issues.
"Tom Corbett may not be in a hurry to enact a severance tax on natural gas drillers, but if elected Pennsylvania’s next governor, the current attorney general will begin immediately to reform state government."Do you really trust that he's going to change his tune after he's elected and in power? Judge the man on what he's actually done - not on his promises. Judge him on what he has done, such as joining the health care suit to overturn much needed health care reform in this country.
I'll admit it that I flip-flop on Dan Onorato. He has certainly made choices locally that I disapprove of, but that will be the case with any candidate that you have detailed knowledge of. There is no perfect candidate, but there is a "best" candidate in this election. That is Dan Onorato. He has accomplished a lot (controversially) in his time as County Executive of Allegheny County. He's making the county more energy efficient, investing in our green space, and recently announced a major breakthrough of the Allegheny trail. As governor, he will be in the position to fix the property tax miasma throughout the state and maintain his hard line on limited tax increases.
From his site: "Throughout his time in Congress, Pat voted for legislation to protect innocent life, strengthen marriage, and protect the traditional values upon which this country was founded."
Would those be the same values that made black men slaves and denied women the right to vote? No thank you.
Toomey's cure for the economy: "cutting taxes and decreasing regulation." Really? Really? Haven't we had enough of short-term fixes that screw us in the end?
His grassroots campaign upset surprised us all in the Spring when he emerged victorious over Arlen Spector. He needs your help to do it again. For information on why you should vote for Sestak, see the Post-Gazette's endorsement of Sestak.
Get out and vote!
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
However, spammers and their ilk will continue attempting to flood us with unwanted garbage in every avenue possible. The latest attempt in Pittsburgh? Two anti-abortion activists have sued the city in an attempt to overthrow the anti-flyer law enacted to reduce litter. Where are they getting the money for this lawsuit? Pat Robertson.
"Kathleen A. Ramsey of Ross and Albert A. Brunn of Pittsburgh want to distribute leaflets they think will influence the results of the election. They are represented by the American Center for Law & Justice, an organization founded by evangelical preacher Pat Robertson."Prepare for pictures of dead fetuses (preview if you have the stomach) to flood your car windshields in the coming months. It's not enough that abortion protesters feel the need to harass women seeking affordable health care at Planned Parenthood. (See some horror stories from last year's 40 days for Life.) For the next month, they will also have the legal right to leave garbage on your car. I recommend that you find the anti-abortion van and plaster it with pro-Sestak flyers.
I want to put my car on the Do-Not-Flyer List. Maybe in another few years?
Friday, October 8, 2010
This Sunday, head on down to the South Side Slopes for some stair walking good times. With multiple routes around the South Side Slopes, you'll get some exercise, sneak peaks into some gorgeous churches, and fantastic views of the city. This is the 10th Anniversary of Step Trek and promises to be the best one yet. For more information, see the official Step Trek website!
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Marcellus Shale (the huge rock formation containing huge amounts of hard-to-extract natural gas covering most of Western Pennsylvania) has been in the news for years. Companies have been ramping up operations to build wells and extract the lucrative gas since 2008. Now in the middle of a budget crisis in 2010 where our roads and public transportation options are facing severe cuts, the Legislators are finally proposing a tax on this process which is harmful to the environment and has already put billions of dollars in the pockets of investors.
Today, the State House is finally voting on a bill to tax the shale deposits. The only questions are: how much and how? Do you tax on the quantity of the gas as it is extracted from the ground or on the market value once the gas is sold or a combination of the two (as Governor Rendell supports). The current bill will only tax the gas as it is extracted, but it is set to be one of the highest rates in the nation. Of course, this is in front of the House. Once (and if) the bill reaches the Republican-controlled Senate, they will inevitably compromise and lower the rate and/or change the methodology.
Finally, once they can agree on the tax, they need to agree where the money should go - a combination of State general fund and an environmental fund to counteract the damages imposed by drilling.
Needless to say the drilling companies have predicted doom and gloom if the bill is passed in Pennsylvania. And Legislators are hesitant to pass a law so close to an important mid-term election. Will they pass the law before they leave for campaigning break in mid-October? I'll wager my bus fare because if they don't pass the law, I won't be taking the bus anymore anyways.
As a note, all other 24 Marcellus Shale states have already passed a tax. Pennsylvania is dead last.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
The city got an offer of $452 Million.
For weeks, city residents were told that these over-arching changes were required. There was no way to separate the parking garages from the parking meters. Every adjustment the administration made to the proposal would highly risk our ability to be competitive. We needed to "keep the deal attactive to potential bidders."
And then what happens??? We end up with way too much money.
So what do I say? Put the project back out to bid for just the parking garages. Give the 7 pre-picked firms the option of re-submitting bids for just the garages. After all, the Metered Parking System Agreement is already separate from the Parking Facilities Agreement. I'm willing to bet that we can get $300 Million for the facilities alone.
Leasing our parking meters for 50 years is simply ridiculous. Letting someone else control where and how much our parking meters cost will be deadly to local businesses and future development. There is free-market competition for the parking garages and the ability for 3rd parties to build more. When it comes to parking meters, there is no such thing.
What about Port Authority's quest for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) which would greatly improve our transportation options in certain corridors but could require elimination of some parking meters? If the parking meters are leased, that becomes an added expense to the project. The city should control its roads. Lease some profitable parking garages downtown, but don't sell out our roads.
Or do you really trust City Council and the Mayor's office with a $150 Million bonus?
Or we can wait until Friday when City Council's study of the parking situation comes to light.
Whatever the case, we know now that either the Mayor had no idea what the parking garages are worth (and still doesn't) or his office was perfectly willing to bully the city into giving away way too much power. Seriously, it's going to cost $2 per hour to park in the struggling neighborhood of Brookline but we're supposed to be happy that the Mayor saved our free Sundays?
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
2) Thursday, we learn once and for all whether the Civic Arena will be imploded. Who am I kidding? They'll decide to implode it, and then we'll be in for another round of appeals from the "Re-Use the Igloo" folks. Perhaps their best argument so far has been this image:
3) Podcamp Pittsburgh is this weekend. To sweeten the pot, buildasign.com has given me 50 bumper stickers to dole out to my Pittsburgh-crazed groupies. Since I don't have groupies, anyone I see at Podcamp will be eligible for a PghIsACity-themed bumper sticker (while supplies last.)
|Made my signs|
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Like most fans, I wear my jersey on game day, and I strive to watch every game, from walking through a snow storm to watch the game at a Steelers bar in Massachusetts to catching snippits of a game in a bar in Argentina with "buffalo wings" that resembled chicken cacciatore. This Sunday, I'll be heading down to the South Side stopping in wherever there's a good crowd, but I can still get a seat. And this Friday, I'm hoping to check out the Immaculate Reception, the CMU gallery's cleverly titled opening reception.
If you've managed to miss it, check out "Yinz Luv da Stillers" below whose work will be featured at the Miller Gallery.
Thursday, September 2, 2010
Or why did Justin McFadden cross West Carson Street around 2AM 6 days ago?
To get to the other side.
What happened to Justin McFadden? An off-duty, impaired (read: drunk) Kennedy police officer hit him. Remember kids, buzzed driving is drunk driving.
Justin McFadden is now in the hospital with 6 broken ribs, a neck fracture, and a spleen injury. He had blood clots in his brain and collapsed lungs. This was no mere brush with a vehicle. This was a serious collision.
What does the un-biased Tribune-Review have to say about this? They quote a random passerby:
"That's the worst place on that road to cross because the jersey barrier blocks everything, and you wouldn't see anyone until the last second"And you know what a sober, alert driver does, when they see someone in the road at the last second? They swerve out of the way and crash into a jersey barrier rather than slamming into the pedestrian. By quoting this garbage in the paper, the Trib is almost justifying this near-murder by a drunk-driver saying that the young man shouldn't have been in the street. Yeah, there'd be no drunk-driving accidents if folks just stuck to crosswalks.
And the police officer that hit him and may or may not have left the scene and not reported the crime? He's sitting off-duty receiving pay yet to face any charges. We can only hope that next time he's out drinking, he calls BeMyDD.
Justin's father says:
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
This past weekend, we had a stark reminder of why it's so important to make changes on the South Side. After getting into a fight with a bouncer, a bar patron opened fire wounding the bouncer and two bystanders. This is unacceptable. Stories like this are why I try to leave the South Side craziness before all hell breaks loose at closing time. Every Friday and Saturday night I've been on the South Side, I've experienced drunken belligerence and fights - though thankfully no gunshots yet. This behavior is unacceptable. Are we going to wait until 4 people get killed?
But our Mayor keeps pushing this off on Councilman Kraus as a minor district problem. Moreover, it seems the Mayor's office is turning a blind eye to Kraus's efforts.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Now, we just have to convince Pittsburgh drivers that they shouldn't be driving drunk. This week, there is a state-wide push to crack down on drunk drivers.
"Pennsylvania Department of Transportation officials said drunken driving increases as the summer comes to an end. According to records, last year there were more than 450 alcohol related crashes in Pennsylvania on the weekends surrounding Labor Day."How about they "crack down" every weekend on the South Side? Of course, it's hard to have effective checkpoints when even the cops drive under the influence. But it's promising that BeMyDD is expanding to Pittsburgh after successfully launching in 3 Ohio cities. According to Men's Health, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus are all doing better than us at addressing drinking with ranks of 73, 72, and 83 respectively, but Pittsburgh's ranking of 59th means there are a lot of cities with a lot more work to do. This is one list that I'm glad we're not topping.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Don't waste your rights and the efforts of your foremothers. And don't forget that with enough effort, you can change the status quo.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
"Joe believes there is a Constitutional right to religious freedom and separation of church and state that applies equally to all Americans," Sestak spokesman Jonathon Dworkin said. "But he is not looking to say what is best for New York - as long as that right is respected - he is focused on Pennsylvania."
Public Policy Polling finds that in spite of an advantage in registered Democrats, Democrats are less likely to vote in this election. I, for one, will be trying to prove them wrong on November 2. I hope that the Republican party pulls more stunts like trying to limit freedom of religion in the run-up to these mid-term elections because I think they will find that us Democrats do get riled up about more than "change." As soon as we start limiting freedom of religion, we stop being a free democracy and start on the path to a religious state. No thank you.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
How they work? You're allowed to buy wine from a sophisticated vending machine.
A customer must first scan his driver's license by inserting it into a slot on the kiosk, then peer into a camera so that an LCB employee working at an office in Harrisburg can determine that the customer is the same person pictured on the license.So what's the next step? Why not have independent stores with the same "safeguards"? Why not have Giant Eagle employ sommeliers next to their wine kiosk who can answer questions and determine which wines fill up the kiosk? Why not let Dreadnought Wines in the Strip District have their own kiosk filled with their own chosen wines?
Who's complaining? The Independent State Store Union. Members of this union know their jobs are at risk. It's unfortunate for the folks who work at the state stores. They have a pretty swell gig with a guaranteed pension in a market that has been ever-increasing for as far back as anyone can remember. But change is inevitable and cushy state pensions are on the chopping block. Ultimately, more options for buying wine will mean more jobs. So I say: Bring on the wine kiosks and may more change keep coming.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
"The project initially involved nearly 500 residential units and 26 acres -- 10 of those in the City of Pittsburgh. After complaints from the city's Ridgemont residents, the plans were revamped to include only Green Tree at this time. Developers may revisit plans to expand City Vista into Pittsburgh"But let me get this straight. A developer wanted to build a cross-city-border development in 10 acres of the city and one neighborhood turned it down. How about we raise taxes on Ridgemont residents since they clearly don't want an influx of property taxes and new resident wage taxes into the city coffers. Maybe they're not being taxed enough?
Let's look at the census assessment of Ridgemont:
Its population as of the 2000 census was 530 people. Down from 590 in 1990 and 884 in 1940. Of its 223 housing units, only 2 units were vacant which is an impressive statistic. Of those units a mere 26 (or 11%) are renters. Sounds to me like Ridgemont is fine with the status quo. They don't want any renters invading their peaceful neighborhood.
I understand that not every development is worthwhile, but when your neighborhood is losing population and your city is struggling, it is the time to welcome new housing stock. Let's hope when the developer comes back and wants to expand again, Ridgemont has the common sense to work with the developer.
Saturday, July 31, 2010
As it currently stands, Mayor Ravenstahl is ready to give away the bank to the highest bidder. That means tripling most parking meter rates over the next 4 years, meter enforcement till 10PM everyday including Sundays. That means no more free ride in city downtown parking garages.
I attended last week's South Side hearing to voice my opinion and listen to others. The resounding responses? 50 years (the intended lease agreement length) is a very long time. One of the plan stipulations is that the City of Pittsburgh will pay the lessee if a parking space is out of commission for 22 days in a year. One speaker aptly asked "What if we had locked into a plan 50 years ago?" We'd be paying some company a fee for not using those covered-up trolley lines if you ask me.
Residents also fervently proclaimed that leasing the parking garages is bad business. The city is selling low right now because the city is at a disadvantage. And what is the lessee going to do? Make a steep profit off of higher rates that we've been too afraid to implement ourselves for fear of driving away business. Why not raise the rates, put the profit towards the pensions, and cut out the middle man? Pittsburgh City Council is leaning towards a plan that will issue a bond to increase the contents of the pension fund and retain control over the parking situation. They would continue to raise rates, but since the city would still ultimately be in control, they could respond to suffering businesses and residents if the rates became too unwieldy. That sounds like good business to me.
So why am I telling you this? In order to pull off this coup, 5 city council members need to stand up to pressure from Mayor Ravenstahl and our Harrisburg Legislators. City council is only willing to do this if we insist on this plan. So let your city councilors know that you support them standing up to Harrisburg and Mayor Ravenstahl. Let them know that it's bad business to hand away our assets and lose control of our streets. Will this still mean increased parking rates? Yes. But it also means that the increases will be with the success of the city in mind - instead of a big conglomerate that just wants to profit off of our residents in a time of need.
Monday, July 26, 2010
At Shenot Farm on a quintessential hay ride, I learned they are collaborating with Penn State to practice mating disruption throughout their farm. This is a method of reducing insects without pesticides. They hang little pheromone tags on peach trees and apple trees to confuse the insects while saving money and our fragile environment at the same time. Soergel's mega-orchard is also using this method.
At Pound's Turkey Farm, I was surprised to learn that not only do they raise turkeys and cows, but they also grow most of the feed that these animals consume. I learned first-hand that turkeys are curious creatures that follow people around and like to play with toys, and I even got to hold a baby turkey in my hand. Maybe it will be my Thanksgiving dinner?
Over at Jamison Farms, I was transported to Ireland. Sheep roam the hillsides, and John Jamison will talk your ear off about his lamb and why Americans tend to reject this delicious meat. He's convinced many chefs of the greatness of his lamb including the ones at Legume and Sonoma Grille locally. You can also buy direct from the source and try your hand at cooking this delectable lamb at home.
All of these farms are less than an hour from downtown. Of course, you don't need to leave Pittsburgh's urban environment to see agriculture in action in Pittsburgh. Burgh Bees is a pioneer in urban community apiaries with a test site in progress in Homewood. Recently, Dan Onorato announced "Allegheny Grows," a plan to turn county land into urban farms and community gardens. Even the Pittsburgh Pirates have caught the farming bug. Their Pepsi Refresh Project is to create yet another urban community garden - in Homewood.
You can talk about a lot of great things in Pittsburgh, but this summer, the thing I'm most thankful for is our connection to the earth. Pittsburgh's next #1 ranking should be city with the most opportunity for sustainable urban living.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Who protested? The lowest-income customers who are busy putting food on their table? Or the downtown workers from the suburbs who can afford an increase the most? The results are pretty clear. Both zone 1 and zone 2 fares are going to raise by a whopping $0.25. In case you're not keeping track at home, that's a 12.5% increase in fare for the lowest-income customers who were already paying their way. The customers out in the suburbs will only see a 9% increase.
Not that the suburbanites are getting off easy in this highly probable round of cuts.
since they now have that data), people would be unhappy but they would understand the logic. Instead, we have unfair, illogical bus fare increases and radical service cuts insuring that everyone is unhappy.
Among the 50-plus communities that would be left with no service are East McKeesport, Franklin Park, Glassport, Hampton, Indiana Township, Liberty, Marshall, North Versailles, Pennsbury Village, Port Vue, South Park and Wall, and the city neighborhoods of Banksville and Spring Garden. Service to the Edgewood Towne Centre and Robinson Town Centre shopping complexes would be abolished, the agency said.
Obviously, Port Authority wants us all to be angry and yell at our state legislators to restore funding for public transportation (which you should). But if Steve Bland is just playing a massive chess game with the state legislature, I'm afraid he's going to lose, and the lowest-income customers will be the biggest losers. So go contact your state legislators, and while you're at it, give Port Authority a piece of your mind.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
For the bike community, the sale of the amusement parks may have been the best thing that could have happened. For years, the old local park owners had refused to allow the Great Allegheny Passage, the bike trail that starts in Pittsburgh and ultimately connects to Washington, DC by way of Sandcastle, through their property.
Today, Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato and James Judy, vice president of operations for Palace Entertainment, who manages the park, have both been quoted that they're shortly announcing an agreement to allow the trail through Sandcastle. This isn't the first time close talks between the park and the county have been announced. Back in 2008 when Pittsburgh was celebrating its 250th anniversary and clamoring for the completion of the trail as a birthday present, there were similar talks which fell flat after the celebration. Now, however, with new international management the trail issue has become more than a provincial argument. Even Newsweek took up the case of the trail, and helped apply the pressure to this decades old effort.
Congratulations to the Pittsburgh bike community and Dan Onorato for not giving up on this project. With this latest almost-announcement, I fully expect to see the trail completed by the new goal: 11/11/2011. See you in Washington, DC!
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Cigars are addictive and cause cancer. Cigars are an expensive, luxury product costing up to and over $1,000 each. Yet, we don't tax cigars. Cigar bars are exempt from the smoking ban. Why do we as a state continually choose to reward cigar smokers while having a hefty cigarette tax?
"Altria and Cigars International, also hired Harrisburg lobbyists to help them bring their message directly to policy-makers."How much do you want to bet those lobbyists handed out cigars to lawmakers for the holiday weekend? Maybe if the Carnegie libraries wanted to avoid the 8.4% cut in library funding that also passed in this budget they should have created some hybrid cigar bar libraries.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Rebecca Shaver, state executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said she supports the current state system and is particularly concerned about an increase in the number of liquor stores."If there is a larger number of licenses being issued, which leads to more availability, which leads to more consumption, we prefer that the system that we have in place remains in place," she said.
But is it true that more liquor stores leads to more drinking and drunk driving? Yet 17.6% of our population admits to binge drinking (7th in the nation). In sheer numbers, Pennsylvania ranked 4th in the nation for number of alcohol related fatalities (which is partly reflected by our #6 population rank). When it comes to underage drinking, we fall in the list to #22 with 30% of our minors drinking. Though 20% of them binge drink (which puts us at #18). There's only one other state in the nation (New Hampshire) which has a state run liquor store. Shouldn't we be tied for last with them in all these statistics if state run liquor stores can prevent drinking and drunk driving?
The farce of the matter is that our politicians hide behind our well-meaning alarmists in order to keep the profits from the state liquor stores headed into the general fund. We do not maintain state liquor stores for safety or to prevent underage drinking. We maintain these stores because they bring in record profits every year. The state has no business in running liquor stores. It's a bloated business that sends out glossy advertisements in the newspaper every week, and severely limits entrepreneurship in the state. The 621 state-run liquor stores could be small businesses that pay taxes and contribute to our society. Instead, we have a monopoly which does not adapt to the individual needs of each region. Instead of attempting to limit alcohol consumption and educate consumers about the dangers of alcohol, the PLCB (Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board) is planning self-serve kiosks and wants to re-brand itself with a new name, such as "Table Leaf."
Customers spend an average of three minutes in a liquor store, PLCB Chairman Patrick J. Stapleton told a state House-Senate committee recently. He called that “unacceptable.”Rebecca Shaver, do you really want the PLCB chairman plotting on how to get customers to spend more time in the liquor store?
Officials said the renovations and new focus could generate more money for the state. The PLCB provided the state with more than $518 million for the 2008-09 fiscal year.
Friday, June 18, 2010
Mike said: "There are some bicyclists who are just these arrogant little dorks that think that they can do anything they want because they're on a bicycle and we're being green and environmentally friendly."Mike Pintek wonders if the recent rash of attack on cyclists is because of their "arrogance." He cites the fact that a robbery didn't occur during any of the attacks implies that the bikers somehow caused the attacks. Last November, someone threw an empty bottle of Captain Morgan rum through the rear windshield of my parked car in the middle of the night. They didn't bother stealing the CDs, radio, or other valuable items in the car. Perhaps my car was being "arrogant" and the vigilantes wanted to teach it a lesson? Or maybe more likely, they were drunk kids who didn't think there would be any ramifications for their actions, and my car was an easy target.
We need to view these attacks with some perspective. It's easy to jump to the conclusion that there is an underlying anti-bike sentiment or that this is new. Back in 2007, the City Paper published an article about a string of attacks on bicyclists back then. Now, we have more extensive reporting and blogging about them. Also, these same gangs of roving juveniles tend to target pedestrians and smash car windows as well.
Let's take this opportunity to nip this recent rash of bicyclist attacks in the bud by showing a strong police and public response that this will not be tolerated. Let's certainly not excuse the attacks because some bicyclists may be "arrogant." To me, this logic is akin to suggesting that women who wear short skirts are asking for rape. Or that men walking down the street deserve to be beat up if they flick their wrists. There is no excuse for this violence. Mike Pintek and others clearly feel threatened by the increase in bicyclists on our streets. They need to learn to live with it, and we need to show them that their behavior is unacceptable.
Monday, June 14, 2010
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
However, Pennsylvania's latest laws actually aim to target those employers who get cheap immigrant labor, then undercut responsible employers in state bids.
House Bills 1502 and 1503 require employers to verify the social security numbers of their employees if they are going to bid on state projects. These house bills (which you can read in their entirety and discuss at the new site Mygov365.com if you're so inclined) target the employers instead of the employees. Of course, they're still not perfect. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is quick to point out that the methods for determining whether someone has a valid social security number are flawed. However, these house bills also have overwhelming bi-partisan support. I'll be watching these closely as they goes through the State Senate.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
The House Republican spokesman, Steve Miskin is livid about the changes. The Tribune-Review quoted the following:
"You're saying the legislator, the vocal representative for that community, can't help their constituents out? That is their job. That is what they're supposed to do."Steve, your job is to enable constituents to get what they need. It's not to bloat our government beyond repair. What's next? Does the state legislature have special PLCB (Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board) specialists that will place special orders for you when you can't figure out how to do it yourself? Honestly, if you can't figure out how to register your car or get a driver's license, you probably shouldn't be driving.
The grand jury investigated the entire state house and identified these easy pickings as the first steps in attempting to reform Harrisburg. The grand jury is also recommending reducing the size of the legislature, implementing term limits, eliminating per diem supplements, and increasing the term length from 2 years to 4 years. Those changes are pretty radical and will require a constitutional convention in Pennsylvania. These changes will only happen when pigs fly unless we put pressure on the state government. This is an election year for governor, so us voters have some sway this year. Both Onorato and Corbett claim that they want state-wide reform. Let's push our candidates to implement real reform this year and start to chip away at the country club that is our state Legislature.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Up until now, he has largely focused his public awareness meetings in the Hill District, where he has found, mostly, that folks don't care. Now, he is expanding his radius to the whole of Pittsburgh, hoping that we will fall in love with the idea that the Igloo is to Pittsburgh as the Eye is to Seattle.
They have a very comprehensive website where you can read for yourself and decide if you think the building is worth saving.
I think that Pittsblog captures the general public sentiment:
"The Igloo should go. It is not the Pantheon; it is not Penn Station. It is an eyesore. The space occupied by that building represents an opportunity to re-create and re-invent a big slice of Pittsburgh's urban fabric. (Of course, given Pittsburgh's history with redevelopment over the last 50 years, the city might well blow its big chance.) But that's just me."But there are some, like me, who have drunk the Kool-Aid. Personally, I find the building to be an icon. Looking out from my deck, I can see the
But mostly, Mr Pfaffman is selling the building and not a vision. One of the foremost plans I've heard for reuse is turning the decrepit arena into a boutique hotel. He says this is not about "nostalgia," but I have to say that the only ones wanting to stay in an over-priced arena boutique hotel are those overcome by nostalgia. For the residents of the Hill District, this would not be an amenity, just yet another reason for rich folks to stop through. Another reuse idea I hear floated about is as a non-professional sporting arena. Folks have championed ideas from a hockey rink to a velodrome. Once again, this is meant to appeal to general area dwellers and is not marketed at the Hill District. These plans will not generate any more or less jobs for Hill District residents than the Penguins plan.
Throwing a bone to Hill District residents, Pfaffman has plans for a walk with interpretive signs.
Needless to say, another multi-multi-million dollar project with some spare change thrown into interpretive signs, doesn't get Hill District residents involved and interested. If Rob Pfaffman and his crew really want to save the arena, they will find a vision for the new site that appeals to Hill District residents. Historians and those stepped-on by history have a chance of creating the momentum that will be needed to sway the Penguins management. How about a Hill District charter school on the site? Or a museum dedicated to the area?
Lastly, may I suggest a compromise? Incorporating architectural elements of the old building into the new development would act as a reminder and a teaching point for years to come. At the Waterfront, we have relic smoke stacks. At Station Square, there is an old train car. While these are not perfect examples, at least it's something. Clearly, it's too early for either side to give in to compromise, but I hope that in the end they find some middle ground.
Thanks to Eve Picker for putting together an informative panel and generating a lively discussion on the future of the Igloo at the monthly CityLive! event. If you haven't been to a CityLive! event and you care about issues in the city, you're really missing out on a great time. Next up, on June 29, Eve and her crew are tackling the issue of water in the city. RSVP today. Bonus? The events are free.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
The city of Pittsburgh has noticed this discrepancy and in the latest round of "what-can-we-tax-next" has settled on parking enforcement fees. So far, they're not seeing much push back, and the preliminary vote is today. Personally, I think Pittsburgh has dropped the ball on this one. The rates haven't been raised since they were decided upon in 1988. Has anything else in this country stayed the same price in those intervening 22 years? Certainly, our meter maids salaries have risen in the meantime putting a crunch on the city's budget. I implore the city to research and find other oversights and to put into place a reasonable plan for increasing general fees with inflation and stay away from silly, divisive taxes on pop. Nobody likes to pay more for services, but unfortunately that's the nature of money.
Perhaps this move will also take some pressure off the leasing of the parking garages fear. If the city is willing to raise rates involving parking and the sky doesn't fall, maybe we will survive a lease of the parking garages.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
If you're not registered for a party, but you live in Pennsylvania's 12th District (Murtha's former district), then get out and vote because they are having a special election to replace the late Representative Murtha.
Then we can all breathe a sigh of relief as we get a short break from being bombarded with awful election commercials like this one.
Thanks to 2 political junkies for sharing this one.
Sunday, May 16, 2010
During the event, Hilltop Alliance members were attempting to spread the word vacant lots in the hilltop. This area of Pittsburgh has 300 city-owned vacant lots. If one of these lots is adjacent to your home, you can buy it for a measly $200 through the city's side lot program.
Less than 24 hours after this lively, family-friendly event, Allentown residents saw first-hand one of the unfortunate consequences of these abandoned houses. At 3:30AM, a fire started in a vacant house in the 900 block of East Warrington Ave and spread to a neighboring house where 2 adults and 2 children resided. Looking on the Allegheny County Property Assessment page, I find that there are a number of addresses in the 900 block that are city-owned. But there are also signs of potential speculators including Venture III, Inc, Gulli Construction Corp, and Greenvue Development LP. Pittsburgh has a rental registration program in place intended to try to address the problem of absentee landlords. The registration program is currently on hold pending a lawsuit resolution. But what have they proposed to deal with absentee owners? It's just as serious a problem to be a slumlord who doesn't rent their properties as one that does. I propose an anti-homestead rule. If no one is living in your property then, you have to foot extra property tax for the extra burden you're placing on your neighbors. National studies have shown that these vacant properties cause 12,000 fires per year and have greatly increased likelihood of crime taking place in and near them. We need to kick these vacant property owners to the curb, aggressively pursue the side lot program and demolish or renovate these eyesores.
Thursday, May 6, 2010
Everybody that discusses the Senate race refers to Specter's fame. Everyone is supposed to know Specter inside and out because of his long history in the senate. However, if you've moved to Pennsylvania since the last time he was up for election, maybe you (like me) don't know much about him.
Arlen Specter is the incumbent and the longest serving Senator in Pennsylvania. He made waves last year when he switched parties from Republican to Democrat after his vote on the Stimulus bill made him a pariah. Not many politicians have the guts to do that, and it's earned him quite a bit of friends at the top-level of the Democratic party. Most notably President Obama is a staunch supporter of Specter. Since his party switch, he has voted with the Democratic party 95% of the time, but he also has a history of taking a stance against Republicans, criticizing President Clinton's impeachment and President Bush's wiretapping of US citizens. He supports a woman's right to choose, gay rights, and has other liberal leanings. However, he historically voted with the Republican party including voting for the Iraq war (along with 29 of the 50 Democratic Senators that were in office at the time).
Honestly, Joe Sestak strikes me as a bit smarmy. He's a little too-polished for my liking. I like that he has a history of being a democrat, and his platform is clearly resonating in Pennsylvania as he is jumping leaps and bounds in the polls. Sestak is currently a Congressman from the Eastern part of the state looking to move up the ladder. Politically, he supports Roe v. Wade, received an F from the National Rifle Association, and has voted with the Democratic majority on the Stimulus Act and Health Care Reform amongst many others.
Either way, the winner will ultimately face off against the Republican, Pat Toomey. Much of the fear and hoopla about this senate race involves who will be the better Toomey opponent. This smacks to me a lot of old politics. When Hillary Clinton was facing Barack Obama, I heard a lot of the same rhetoric. That they shouldn't slash each other, that Clinton would make a better McCain opponent, but happily, we all know how that turned out. So I'm not going to let that influence my decision.
But honestly, I'm torn. I admire Specter's long history as an independent thinker in the Senate, and given his senior status he holds many choice committee positions. I also like listening to him talk. But Sestak is obviously the classic Democrat who in general lines up with my ideals more closely. However, Sestak is a current Congressman who can continue to serve the party admirably in that capacity.
Whoever wins the Democratic primary election, I will gladly vote for him in the November election against the slime-ball Pat Toomey who wants to amend the US Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, disagrees with Roe V Wade, and much more.
How are you voting?
Monday, May 3, 2010
Pennsylvania legislators are idiots. After the Bush administration rejected tolling of interstate 80 on the grounds that the tolls were going to spent on other roads besides 80, Pennsylvania legislators decided to ask the same exact question of the Obama administration. Needless to say, the "ask mommy" approach didn't work. Only now are they considering asking for the right to toll and repair those particular roads. But this time, it's an emergency and their casting their net as wide as interstates 95, 81, and 79.
"Pennsylvania leads the nation in the number of structurally deficient bridges, with 5,646," the governor said. That is more than the deficient bridges in the New England states, New York, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio and Virginia combined.
Fact: Pennsylvania legislators are cowards. Legislators are afraid to raise taxes this year to solve this emergency problem because it's an election year. Of course, this isn't a unique problem to Pennsylvania. To them I say, it's a lot worse to have a bridge collapse on your watch than to raise taxes. Ask Minnesota. The I-35W Mississippi River bridge in Minneapolis was rated "structurally deficient" for years before this heavily used bridge's 2007 collapse. PennDOT has started to make progress on repairing the thousands of structurally deficient bridges in Pennsylvania, but the progress is slow and steady. With a lack of funding we will again lose ground.
Minnesota learned their lesson the hard way. After the bridge's collapse, the state legislature passed a $0.055 per gallon fuel tax. Let's take our lessons from them and save our bridges before its too late. Of course, the best way to save our bridges from further deterioration is to decrease their usage. According to Port Authority of Allegheny County, one bus can take up to 60 cars off the road. One light rail vehicle can take up to 125 cars off the road. A double-pronged approach of repairing bridges and increasing funding to public transportation will go a long way towards solving our problems in Pennsylvania.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
Check out the recent posts on Pittsburgh's air quality (bad but getting better if we keep fighting) and the state of rail in Pennsylvania.
Now go plant a tree.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
1. Dan Onorato. Our very own chief executive is running for governor. Love him or hate him, he is a controversial fellow. Recently, Chris Potter has reported some highly questionable behavior in Dan's courting of both the pro-life and pro-choice constituents. Dan has accumulated a sizable war chest, so expect to see lots of him on TV in the near future.
2. Joe Hoeffel. Montgomery County Commissioner. Progressive. Joe has really reached out to everyone in the state during this race. I had the opportunity to meet him in Pittsburgh last Fall before I even knew who he was.
3. Jack Wagner. State Auditor General. This is a local boy from Beechview who's gone on to have a long career in state politics including stints as Pittsburgh Council president and State Senator.
4. Anthony "Tony" Williams. A State Senator. This businessman grew up in urban Philadelphia and turned to politics to save his community.
In fact, it seems like the candidates agree on most issues. They all want to fight corruption in Harrisburg. During a debate last month, they were cordial and found little to disagree on. Today, in honor of Earth Day, the candidates released a joint statement agreeing on taxing the Marcellus Shale natural gas, renewing Rendell's green programs, and enforcing clean-air regulations.
Honestly, I'd like these candidates to try to differentiate themselves more from each other. At this point, it seems like a popularity contest. According to a recent poll, Dan Onorato has the lead with 20%, but Joe Hoeffel and Jack Wagner are not far behind with 15% and 13% respectively. However, there are still a whopping 47% undecided.
Personally, I'm leaning towards Joe Hoeffel. His outreach campaign has impressed me, and he isn't afraid to speak strongly and clearly about his socially progressive leanings from health care to his pro-choice stance to the environment.
If you're registered as a Democrat, don't forget to vote on May 18.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Here's just a smattering of the new businesses popping up I've noticed in the past month:
The Sharp Edge is opening a new location downtown. This is really a coup for downtown as the Belgian Beer mecca has opened many suburban locations and only has one city location. As this new business will be just down the street from Seviche, Sonoma Grille, and August Henry's Saloon, I'm looking to this section of Penn Ave to become a downtown nightlife haven, just as Fifth Avenue is becoming a retail haven.
The Fairmont hotel has opened with a LOT of fanfare. They are courting the Pittsburgh community with special party after gala-event after special party. China Millman, the Post-Gazette's super-critical food reviewer even seems to have fallen in love with them and their new restaurant, Habitat. For more restaurant opening information, check out Ms Millman's timely blog, "First Bites." I'm looking forward to Kevin Sousa's new venture, Salt Of the Earth.
The biggest opening of the year will inevitably be the Penguin's new home, the Consol Energy Center. The new arena has already attracted concerts such as Lady Gaga, Pink Floyd's Roger Waters, and Rush.
Of course, the city isn't the only one gathering up the openings. Ross Park Mall is booming with recent announcements of an Apple Store, California Pizza Kitchen, and (the most buzz-worthy) Crate and Barrel.
If all this news doesn't make you think the recession is passing and everything is rosy in the Pittsburgh area, I don't know what will.
Of course, not everything is staying. While Mellon Arena's fate may be up in the air, UPMC Braddock is ready to be razed. Robert Morris University announced today that they are contracting their efforts to the suburbs and leaving their landmark downtown building. But I'm guessing some developer out there sees that as another downtown opportunity.
Monday, April 12, 2010
As to whether leasing the garages is a good idea? I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. And with a variety of folks interested, I'd say the odds are pretty good that we can strike a bargain that doesn't immediately screw downtown commuters while giving a much-needed infusion to the pension fund. If Mayor Ravenstahl and Pittsburgh City Council can continue the good cop/bad cop routine for this whole process, we may even come out ahead. How about for a few extra million we let them install those fancy credit-card accepting parking meters like they have in Mt Lebanon? Then no one will have to carry any quarters around unless they're headed to the casino.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Friday, April 2, 2010
I breathed a sigh of relief yesterday when I learned that the police had arrested the alleged shooters of the retired fireman who was killed and left on the street with his dog guarding over him. The police credited these arrests with the use of surveillance cameras in the area. Without the cameras guidance, the police may never have discovered the perpetrators of this crime.
It's not too surprising that in light of this news and the recent rash of homicides in the city (including the innocent bystander that got killed by a stray bullet in Homewood last week) that Mayor Ravenstahl is renewing the charge for more cameras on our streets. With federal stimulus money still up for grabs it should be a no-brainer to put in a request for more funding. Of course, given the city administration's track record for incomplete and late stimulus requests, it's lucky for them that Carnegie Mellon has joined forces in the city's request. After last week, when a student was pepper-sprayed and robbed on Ellsworth Avenue, the pricey university has plenty of reason to be step up security.
Some may express concern that more cameras are an invasion of our privacy. I agree, which is why I favor strong regulations on the storage of any footage. But when teenagers are killing people in our streets, strong measures need to be taken. It's up to the judges and our laws to make sure that the information stored on our cameras isn't abused.
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
While I'm sure, the Carnegie Library is being realistic in its expectations after this down-market and years of cuts in library funding, I have some advice for them: Count your eggs until they're broken. And don't close any libraries because you're scared of the future.
Scrounging up an extra $100,000 per year in permanent funding is a lot easier and more likely than $1 Million per year. And while the $190,000 salary package of Ms Mistick, the library director may be "in the range" of other library directors, we should really re-consider whether a library director in Pittsburgh who's willing to close libraries in the poorer neighborhoods needs to be paid at "the high end of the range."
Monday, March 29, 2010
At the wrap-up, the students volunteered what they learned from the experience of getting out into the city park. One young woman popped up this doozie: "From cleaning up blankets and mattresses, I learned where homeless people actually sleep."
I personally view it as a failure of her upbringing that this was the first time she was exposed to some of America's underbelly, our unfortunate members of society who are too often swept under the rug and ignored.
However, maybe I had a harsh upbringing. Do you know where the homeless people sleep in your neighborhood? If you open your eyes, you see signs of homelessness throughout Pittsburgh (and most cities in the country) from the beggars in the streets to the blankets and newspapers hidden in various cubbyholes and parks. That knowledge is just as valuable as any class you can take at Carnegie Mellon.
If you want a first-hand experience of how homeless people sleep, check out the annual "Sleep-in For the Homeless" where dozens of people camp out on the steps of the City-County Building downtown with nothing but a sleeping bag to raise awareness of and funds for Allegheny County's homeless population. As of January 2009, Allegheny County counted 1,418 homeless "residents." 17% of them had been in the military service. 14% were victims of domestic violence. 18% of them reported serious mental illnesses. 23% of them were children.
Raising awareness and funds is the only way these numbers will decrease.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
According to acting paramedic crew chief Josie Dimon, those pay cuts are already in effect.
"He ain't (expletive) comin' down, and I ain't waitin' all day for him," she [Ms. Dimon] told a colleague, crew chief Kim Long, at the dispatch center. "I mean, what the (expletive), this ain't no cab service."
Is she under the impression that ambulances are cheaper than taxis? For anyone who's ever ridden in an ambulance and paid for it out of pocket, if they had the choice, they would have much preferred to pay the taxi bill. Through Ms Dimon's and her colleagues lack of effort, Curtis Mitchell died on Sunday February 7. This is the worst example of the tragedy of the city's handling of the February snow storms. But it is not the only example. If you have more examples, please contribute to the snow task force site.
Ms Dimon is facing a 5-day unpaid suspension. Some of her colleagues are facing a 3-day unpaid suspension. City paramedics consider themselves scapegoats in this scenario. So tell your snow stories, and let's see some more deserved punishment spread out through other city departments. Pittsburgh deserves better.