Red herrings are procreating at an astonishing rate among those who are hell-bent on shutting down even talking about any degree of privatization at the long-troubled Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA).
Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb has joined the chorus of public officials, here and far, arguing that any talk of privatization is “misguided and premature.”
That assessment came last week as Lamb lauded the beleaguered authority for taking “significant steps” in lead line replacement and, now under state Public Utility Commission (PUC) auspices, having “a new focus” on “finance and customer service” and “long-term planning.”
Lest we forget, things had gotten so bad at the PWSA – it was on the precipice of collapse – that the state Legislature forced PUC oversight on the authority in 2017.
Even more important to remember is that the Legislature mounted that oversight effort to bypass PWSA’s political overlords. The water and sewer authority long had been dysfunctional, wracked by corruption and treated by several iterations of political leaders as a piggybank.
Lamb labeled as “false” – statements and narratives – that the efforts of Peoples Natural Gas to establish either a private water service (or to work in concert with the PWSA) somehow mean “we might as well just invite them in and work with them.”
Pay no attention to the realities behind the curtain, eh?
The false statements and narratives in this suddenly re-blossoming debate are coming from government types yet again trying to muzzle the debate by insisting that it is an article of faith that privatization of any public service automatically is bad.
Pittsburgh has such a long history of, for lack of a better phrase, “poison-pilling” such efforts – through bogus rhetoric, subservience to organized labor and some of the worst political posturing – that the phrase “It’s an embarrassment” doesn’t do it justice.
This notion – this false narrative – that private-sector delivery of a public service somehow leads to societal Armageddon is anathema to not only sound public policy but rational thinking.
How is it that hundreds of thousands of people in our region are served by private water companies and private garbage collectors in a most efficient and cost-effective manner, yet when such proposals are made within Pittsburgh’s city limits, they somehow will lead to horrid things?
Horrid things perhaps for the power base of pols but certainly not for the general public that has been disrespected for decades.
Speaking of disrespecting the general public, the administration of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf went to court last week in the latest attempt to keep secret the corporate wealthfare package being offered to Amazon.
Commonwealth Court was asked to reverse a ruling by the Office of Open Records that such “incentives” indeed are a matter of public record. How quaint – using public money to hide the prospective disbursement of public money.
Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are among 20 finalists for “HQ2,” what will be Amazon’s second headquarters outside Seattle. A decision is expected by the end of this year.
The Philadelphia Inquirer, citing that city’s chamber of commerce president, has reported the state alone has pledged $1 billion to the very profitable retailing behemoth.
Pittsburgh and Philadelphia officials similarly have refused to make public their Amazon offers and also have gone to court – again, using public resources — to block public release. Given that it is already mid-October, all jurisdictions likely will be able to run out the clock and keep the lid tight on their big secret.
Tut-tut, these public dis-servants have assured, should either Pennsylvania site “win” Amazon’s new operation, there will be a thorough public vetting of the offers through our duly elected representative bodies.
Duly elected representative bodies that, no doubt, will promptly apply the rubber stamp to an already signed, sealed and delivered package of taxpayer dollars, supposedly devised for the “public good” but sans anything resembling sunlight.
Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (email@example.com).