Inquiring minds want to know …

Inquiring minds want to know …

Twenty-eight projects worth $1 billion are under construction in downtown Pittsburgh and on its fringes with more on the way, the Post-Gazette reports.

The assessment comes from Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership report, released last week. There has been $8.5 billion in investment –Downtown; in the Strip District; on the North and South sides; Uptown; on the Bluff; and in the lower Hill District — over the last decade, the report says.

But inquiring minds want to know this:

What percentage of that number has been subsidized by taxpayers?

The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) has rejected the Pittsburgh Penguins’ request for 9 percent low-income housing tax credits as it redevelops the 28-acre Hill District site long home to the Civic Arena, the P-G also reports.

The PHFA approved 39 such applications statewide, including four in Allegheny County, the newspaper says. Why the Pens’ request was denied has not been detailed. There’s now talk of the franchise possibly seeking a lower percentage tax credit.

But the decision reportedly means the affordable housing component of the redevelopment will be reduced. Even then, however, a Penguins’ spokesman says additional outside money – in the form of either public subsidies or financing or additional private investment – might be needed.

But inquiring minds want to know this:

Considering the venerable National Hockey League franchise was given development rights essentially gratis, why should it have even attempted to gain such tax credits in the first place?

Furthermore, why should the public be asked to help close the funding gap?

The Penguins were given sweetheart redevelopment rights for this tract of land. That should have been, and that should continue to be, more than enough.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto has been roundly criticized for embracing all things bike lanes. Even the mayor has jokingly referred to the controversy and backlash as “bikelash.”

But no matter whether one supports Pittsburgh’s bike lanes or not, there’s an object lesson worth heeding from Seattle.

As The Seattle Times reports it, “voter-approved bike lanes in downtown Seattle are costing more than 10 times the estimates.”

“Bike lanes that voters were told would cost about $860,000 per mile were actually clocking in at an eye-watering $12 million per mile.”

Yes, you read that horrendous taxpayer wrong right.

Times columnist Danny Westneat put it succinctly: “They bamboozled us. They exaggerated the benefits while lowballing the costs – knowingly so.”

Consider it, as Westneat uses the phrase, “green urbanism” run amok. “Twelve million bucks per mile for a bike lane is insane, even by our normal expectation that all projects will be bloated.”

All that said, inquiring minds want to know this:

What were/are the projected costs of Pittsburgh’s past/planned bike lanes, what was the actual cost and what has the cost per mile been?

Sayeth Erin Vecchio, president of the Penn Hills School District, a district slammed by the state Auditor General’s Office, under investigation by the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office and now facing a nearly $9 million budget shortfall, teacher layoffs and program cuts:

“Families are going to move out of here and go to a different district or send their kids to charter schools because we keep cutting instead of putting back.”

Inquiring minds likely would say they’re “going to move out of here” because of what the AG’s office called mismanagement, bad business decisions and a lack of oversight and, it should be added, because the district is imposing higher taxes to pay for it all.

Taxpayers have a funny habit of voting with their feet when a school district’s debt explodes from $11 million to $167 million in five years; when district credit cards are abused to the tune of $400,000; when $300,000 in fuel is stolen; and when $22,000 in proceeds from ticket sales for athletic events goes missing.

Just sayin’.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).