A rooster proverb for Mayor Peduto
There’s something subtly amiss about Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto’s crowing of pending financial disaster for the city. And it all centers around the timeline of the cost-saving measures his administration has taken to, at least partially, attempt to offset the loss of tax revenue precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Peduto is cock-a-doodle-doo-ing anew that without more, direct and unrestricted federal assistance, city government jobs will be on the chopping block.
What’s that? There have not been any layoffs or furloughs? No such action taken even though the private sector has been forced to lay off or furlough thousands of employees over the past five months?
Peduto appears to rationalize the city’s lack of layoffs, noting that even if it “were to lay off 400 employees across all departments, (a) 10 percent reduction through every department, that would make up around $25 million” of a current $100 million budget hole.
The problem here is that Peduto, watching tax receipts quickly evaporate, did nothing to seriously cut personnel costs. And that should not escape the scrutiny of those being asked for a bailout.
Oh, indeed, Peduto argues that a May-implemented hiring freeze that left 64 positions unfilled saved an estimated $3 million. Additionally, he asked department heads to cut non-personnel costs by 10 percent. Whether they did or not remains unknown. And there have been dozens of layoffs at various city-related, though technically independent, authorities.
But all the while, Peduto continued to eat the city’s seed corn – an $85 million reserve fund six years in the making. Peduto now says that fund is zeroed out. Gone. After all, he said, the city had to pay its bills.
And, it appears, a full complement of city workers.
Now, Peduto has, as the Post-Gazette reported it, joined the “call for emergency funding for Rust Belt cities and towns still recovering from industrial collapse and the Great Recession that began in December 2007.”
So, not only is Peduto seeking relief from the pandemic – after failing to take more strident initial steps to reduce personnel costs – he also, in reality, wants to be made whole for decades of poor “progressive” practices that have left the erstwhile Steel City squarely in the ho-hum column of post-industrial collapse and post-Great Recession economic performance?
We warned you of this when the pandemic hit and bailout legislation was being passed: Government officials also would be seeking bailout money for pre-pandemic problems/behaviors.
Mind you, many of Pittsburgh’s problems have two common denominators – nearly a century of one party (Democrat) rule and a slavish devotion to the repeated extortions of organized labor.
Thus, the City of Pittsburgh finds itself in a double pickle of having embraced growth-retarding and union-coddling public policies that now have collided with a financially debilitating health pandemic.
But while Peduto is critical of the federal government’s supposed lack of help for America’s distressed cities, he could have made a far better case by first helping himself – and the city’s bottom line — by aggressively reducing personnel costs.
“One rooster can’t help another to scratch the same piece of ground,” goes the African proverb. And neither should a city that has not done everything in its power to help itself expect others to automatically ride to the rescue.
Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (firstname.lastname@example.org).