Awaiting PNC’s payback & Wolf’s ‘transparency’

Awaiting PNC’s payback & Wolf’s ‘transparency’

There’s a curious little nugget in a Post-Gazette story about PNC Financial Services Group now being flush with cash. Or flusher than it typically has been, that is.

The banking giant recently shed its stake in Blackrock Inc., a behemoth money manager. The sales price was $14.4 billion. That’s “billion” with a behemoth “B.” After taxes, PNC’s take is expected to be about $11 billion. It wasn’t a bad day at the transaction window.

PNC more than intimates that, post-coronavirus pandemic, it might just be in acquisition mode.

First off, however, it might be more than a nice gesture for PNC to pay back the public the $48 million in public subsidies it accepted to build a new skyscraper in Pittsburgh’s Golden Triangle a decade-plus ago.

PNC was flush with cash then, too. It could have paid for the new office building itself. Or, if it didn’t have enough petty cash around, it could have – and should have — gotten a loan from itself.

You can almost hear the loan officer now: “We’ll need two months of bank statements, checking and savings and, oh, yes, the driver’s licenses and W2s of every employee. Oh, never mind – we have all that on file.”

Ahem.

Be that as it may, one of the many banking targets that might be in PNC’s viewfinder, reportedly, is none other than Pittsburgh’s own FNB Corp., aka First National Bank.

Now, that’s the very same FNB that is the signed, sealed and delivered primary tenant in-waiting to anchor a new skyscraper in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ billion-dollar redevelopment of the former Civic Arena site.

So, what happens to that deal if PNC subsumes rising competitor FNB?

Those web spinners along the swampy banks of the Susquehanna River in Harrisburg just keep spinning away.

Spotlight PA reports that as the heat intensified for the administration of Gov. Tom Wolf to shine more sunlight on the much-derided waiver process that allowed – or denied – businesses to operate during the coronavirus pandemic, Wolf himself sent emails to business that had applied for waivers warning that third parties were seeking private information.

Ah, that would be those dastardly third parties seeking to inform the public of the public’s business that their government has worked overtime to hide.

From the email bearing the governor’s signature, which went to every one of the 43,000 waiver applicants, according to the reporting consortium:

“In many cases, these requests include information that appear to be proprietary or even personal. Nevertheless, various entities … continue to press the administration to disclose this information.”

It mirrors the rationale Wolf used when he refused to comply with a state Senate subpoena seeking the same transparency, Spotlight PA reminds.

But as the reporting consortium further notes, personal and/or proprietary information is redacted under the state public records act.

Nonetheless, the state Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), which oversaw the waiver program, attempted to frame the emails as a caution to applicants to protect their privacy.

That’s a stretch.

If the governor is ignorant of the redaction fact, that’s one problem. But if he’s not and was purposely misrepresenting the situation, that’s quite another.

And to what end? Was it an attempt to tamp down waiver requests? Was it an attempt to somehow leverage the business community to lash out at media? To somehow shame media?

And this revelation fast on the heels that, just prior to the Wolf administration releasing a list of those granted waivers, some waiver recipients were, without explanation, stripped of the government’s blessing to operate. Their initial waivers were scrubbed from any listing the public had demanded. That’s called “a slick government trick.”

Prosecution of sound public policy demands transparency. The game-playing in which the Wolf administration appears to have engaged fails to meet that standard.

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