Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Full of Gas in Harrisburg

If there's one thing I've learned in my time in Pennsylvania, it's that you can rely on our State Legislators in Harrisburg to drag their feet. This is the same Legislature which in 2009 didn't pass its annual budget until almost 3 months after it was due.

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

$452 Million is TOO Much Money

After weeks of waiting, the final tally has come in. The city needed a minimum of a $300 Million bid for the parking assets in order to pay off the existing parking authority debt and boost the pension fund up to 50% funding.

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

3 Important Announcements for this Week in Pittsburgh

1) Today (Tuesday), the parking lease proposals are due. 7 Firms were given the opportunity to submit their bids by 4PM today. Run on over to nullspace to make your proposal guesses now!

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, 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

The Steelers Are Coming

A new CMU Miller Gallery exhibit, "Whatever it takes", hopes to gain new insight on the Steelers phenomenon highlighting outlandish fans near and far. The exhibit opens this weekend. If you've always been looking for a good excuse to check out this gallery, now is the time. Also, if you have a Steelers tattoo or a special game-day ritual, they want you to become part of the exhibit.

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

How Many More Hospital Visits?

Why did the chicken cross the road?
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:
"I just feel like if I was the one who hit someone, I'd be in jail right now"
And I can't help but agree.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Councilman Kraus versus the South Side

Love him or hate him, Pittsburgh City Councilman Bruce Kraus cares about his South Side constituents. Since he was elected, he has made it his crusade to stem the tide of violence, disrespect, and litter in the South Side. Earlier this summer, he organized the "Sociable City Forum" bringing local leaders and bar owners together. Last year, his intern created the following document: "INVITING, SAFE, AND COHESIVE: A PROPOSAL FOR THE MANAGEMENT OF THE SOUTH SIDE USING RESPONSIBLE HOSPITALITY PRACTICES" This proposal outlines the many ways the South Side could be better handled. But unfortunately funding is an ever-present issue in the city, and none of these recommendations have been implemented.

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.

Ms. Doven [Mayoral Spokeswoman] said Mr. Kraus "hasn't brought us anything by way of recommendations, solutions, a white paper" and questioned his willingness to work with the mayor's office. She said previous enforcement blitzes on the South Side yielded only temporary improvements.

Mr Mayor, perhaps if you read your mail, you would have opened your personal invitation to the South Side Sociable City Forum. Or perhaps you could go to Councilman Kraus's web-page on the city website where he outlines the above goals. Or maybe once a week, you could read the newspaper which regularly highlights Kraus's attempts at legislation and change in the South Side. Since being elected, Kraus has managed to get laws passed to increase fines for open alcohol containers and created a fine for public urination.

Perhaps money collected from these fines could be funneled directly back into the South Side police presence? Whatever the case, you can disagree with his tactics, but you can not disagree that Councilman Kraus is willing to work on this vital issue.