Another hustle rejected & strong words

Another hustle rejected & strong words

Allegheny County voters saw through the hustle that was the “Allegheny County Children’s Fund” in Tuesday’s election.

By a 52-48 percent ratio, the electorate turned back an attempt to raise the property tax by a quarter mill to stock an $18 million to $19 million annual account to pay for loosely defined programs for kids.

The proposed fund was problematic on a number of levels – from no credible study undertaken to establish the success or failure of current programs or to address possible duplication, to the fact that many existing providers weren’t even consulted, to the overriding fact that asking taxpayers to buy a pig in a poke loomed large.

Taxpayers were asked to approve the tax hike now with the promise of responsible enabling legislation later. What on earth could go wrong with that scenario, eh?

And then there’s the abuse of the amendment process of the county Home Rule Charter. As Allegheny Institute scholars noted (in Policy Brief Vol. 18, No. 40), “Special funds should be created and funding should be done through the legislative process so they can be deleted or amended without a subsequent charter amendment.”

And there’s another issue that needs a thorough airing in this attempted hustle:

Campaign finance reports show nonprofits raised the bulk of the money used to promote the ballot issues – nearly $1 million all told. As of late October, they had spent more than $856,000, the Post-Gazette reported.

Additionally, PNC Bank contributed $75,000 to the effort.

As more than a few observers have noted, those contributing to the campaign might well have been direct beneficiaries of the proposal had it passed. Backers insisted their organizations would have seen no direct financial gain.

But that doesn’t mean the issue is moot. Those organizations, collectively, now are out nearly $1 million – a million dollars that most assuredly would have been better spent on the children they so professed they wanted to aid with their property tax hike.

As for PNC, no doubt its money would have been better spent donated to one or more of the many existing programs that already help children.

There are a number of powerful lines in a Post-Gazette editorial chastising City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County officials for their continued perverse efforts to hide from the public the public’s business.

They bear worth repeating here as John and Jane Q. Taxpayer are left to wonder how much of their money these governments hung like carrots from a stick attempting to lure Amazon to the region.

The first:

“This is rotten government that undermines the work so many others are doing to move Pittsburgh forward.”

The second:

“PGHQ2 is nothing but a front through which (Pittsburgh Mayor Bill) Peduto and (Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich) Fitzgerald have attempted to launder public documents out of public view.”

The third:

“It’s shameful that the conference,” that being the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, of which PGHQ2 is an arm, “has prostituted itself for this purpose.”

As noted previously in this space, such collusion in pursuit of such skulduggery isn’t merely a matter of bad public policy, it raises serious ethical questions that warrant an appropriate review by ethics overseers.

For public policy certainly never is served by anyone who works so shamefully to subvert the public’s right to know.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director for the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).