Thursday, January 27, 2011

Pro-Choice and Pro-Safety

I make no secret on this blog or in real life that I am pro-choice. I despise the weekly protests at Planned Parenthood downtown which mostly serve to deter women without health insurance from getting birth control and reasonable gynecological services.

But being pro-choice does not mean that I want a free-for-all for abortion clinics. It means I want no woman to be forced to use unsafe practices to make her choice. It means I want an end to shoddy back-door clinics. But here in Pennsylvania, state health officials overlooked this task for the last 15 years. 15 years!!! Luckily, here in Pittsburgh, when inspections resumed in 2010, no grave dangers were discovered. Unfortunately, for women in Philadelphia, that was not the case. Two women are dead, and hundreds of babies were aborted in ghastly ways.

Shame on a former pro-choice governor for neglecting safety at the expense of choice. Shame on Pennsylvania's state health officials for sitting idly by at the expense of our women and children. Shame on the reactionary politics for only resuming inspections after the Philadelphia clinic owner was brought to trial. Shame on the residents of Pennsylvania for not demanding better service from our state officials. Shame on us all if this happens again.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Onorato's Last Stand On Property Tax

Dan Onorato is in his final year of office as Allegheny County Executive. He has stated that 1 of his top 3 goals in this final year is to stop court-ordered property tax reassessment. Gas drilling on airport land and increasing flight traffic round out the list. Securing funding for Port Authority didn't make the cut.

Allegheny County Council President is also begging the state to hold off on property tax reassessment.

Mr. Fitzgerald, D-Squirrel Hill, proposed a resolution that urges the Legislature to adopt a statewide moratorium on court-ordered reassessments and calls on new Gov. Tom Corbett, a Shaler homeowner, to support it.

So what are their arguments against reassessing?

1. Other counties don't have to reassess regularly, so why should Allegheny County? The State Supreme Court has come down in favor of regular reassessments as being the only fair method to calculate property tax. It's only a matter of time until fairness becomes the standard across the state. Why fight a losing battle? Why aren't our Legislators standing up and insisting that instead of a moratorium, the state forces regular reassessments for ALL counties? Then we wouldn't have to worry about unscrupulous folks fleeing the county for lower taxes, and we would be complying with the law.

2. Property re-assessments simply generate a windfall for local governments as property values overall tend to increase over time. Another bullshit argument. County Council member/scofflaw Chuck McCullough has introduced legislation to "soften the blow" of Property Tax reassessments by generating a "bill of rights" for property owners which would prevent egregious assessment appeals and phase in any tax increases. I say take it a step further and force municipalities to lower their millage rates to keep the total revenue stream consistent over time. It's very simple math.

3. And the most ridiculous?

As Mr. Onorato did last week, Mr. Fitzgerald said he doubted that a reassessment would bring tax relief to homeowners in struggling communities. If property values go down in a neighborhood, he said, a school district may have to raise millage to compensate.

Perhaps it's true that some struggling communities like Wilkinsburg and McKeesport wouldn't significantly benefit from a reassessment. But they also wouldn't be harmed! And more often you have struggling neighborhoods or corridors within a municipality, especially the city of Pittsburgh where the poorer neighborhoods of Homewood and Allentown (amongst many others) would clearly benefit over those more affluent neighborhoods such as the South Side and Squirrel Hill.

Why all this anger about property reassessments?

Because people who live in expensive houses in this county are being systematically under-taxed. Find me one house in Allegheny County that costs more than $200,000 and is being assessed for anywhere near its value, and I will be shocked. Yet every single house on the City of Pittsburgh chopping block is being sold at significantly less than its assessed value (often about 10% of its assessed value). All of these houses are in "struggling" neighborhoods. As a matter of disclosure, I am in the former group; though my house cost significantly less than $200,000, it has a street value of significantly more than my assessed value.

So why do I care?

Because the success of the city relies on the success of all its neighborhoods. As long as the status quo remains, then our poorer neighborhoods will continue their everlasting decline and the schism between the haves and the have-nots will only increase in the city creating more and more friction and violence. Let's put a halt to widening the schism based on unfair practices. Let's vote for people who stand up for equal rights even when their pocketbooks are on the line.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

New Years Resolutions

While most of us make New Year's resolutions to lose weight or save money, some folks in our community decide to run for office.

Of note:
All of the odd-numbered Pittsburgh City Council seats are up for grabs this year, so expect to see more announcements soon.

And if you're fed up with the way things are going? Maybe your New Year's Resolution should be to run for office, too. If so, check out the "How to Run for Public Office" workshop on Saturday February 5. Or next year, check out Coro's annual 12-week course called "Running for Public Office."