Broken government lives here

Broken government lives here

Pittsburgh City Council remains in hot water over its self-dealing raise for council members, even as it backtracked on its machinations.

The council, sharply rebuked in just about every quarter for initially giving itself a 22 percent raise, now is drawing scrutiny for how it pared the raise to 6.3 percent on Feb. 5.

The decision came in a closed-door executive session – with a pro forma public vote but with no public discussion – that’s likely very well a violation of open-meetings rules.

That said, there remains a very serious question as to if even that pared-back raise meets a home rule charter proscription that the council may not raise its own salary in excess of average raises given to all city employees.

That figure was 3 percent, not 6.3 percent, according to the City Controller’s office. But what’s 3.3 percentage points among friends, right?

Never mind that the nonpartisan Pennsylvania Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) says the Keystone State could be facing a nearly $2 billion deficit to start Fiscal 2023, the lame-duck administration of Gov. Tom Wolf is proposing a massive spending increase in his proposed new budget.

Wolf argues that the commonwealth is flush with cash and has billions in federal coronavirus pandemic to pay the way.

It’s the oldest governance mistake in the books – gross overspending in tapping one-time dollars then leaving it to some future administration to be forced to impose massive tax hikes or make deep, panic-driven cuts.

Had Wolf any sense of fiscal propriety, he not only would have kept the budget flat to stem the deleterious effects of runaway inflation but set in motion a series of prudent budget cuts now to confront the coming deficit.

That, of course, would have made too much sense in a climate in which the senseless are in power.

Speaking of Gov. Wolf, Western Pennsylvania state Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-46, is blasting the Wolf administration’s proposed new budget as something akin to Groundhog Day – repeatedly asking the General Assembly for more and more spending.

Her criticism came in a Feb. 8 commentary in the Post-Gazette in which she called for a state constitutional amendment that would “ensure government does not grow faster than families’ ability to pay for it.”

“These measures are needed now more than ever as many families struggle to meet the financial hardship caused by the pandemic. This is about treating your wages with respect,” Bartolotta wrote.

But isn’t this the same Bartolotta who keeps shilling for a massive increase in the state Film Tax Credit, which throws thousands of dollars at film producers for shooting movies in the commonwealth?

Sure is. And never mind that a 2018 state IFO analysis found that the film tax credit generated a paltry “return” of 13.1 cents for every tax credit dollar.

Talk about treating your wages with disrespect.

IFO principal revenue analyst Stacey Knavel said at the time that just perhaps the film tax credit money could be better spent elsewhere — say, on education and/or infrastructure.

No kidding.

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