Notes on the state of things

Notes on the state of things

Sound public policy demands ethical behavior. The Pennsylvania Ethics Commission attempted to uphold that timeless principle in an order regarding the manager of Pittsburgh’s Real Estate Division. But it delivered more of a wrist-slap than anything else.

As the Post-Gazette recounts, Aaron Pickett, hired by the city in 2014, bought a vacant, tax-delinquent home in Beechview for $2,500. The property had an assessed value of $102,600. Three other prospective buyers had expressed interest. One of them said he would have paid up to $40,000.

The Ethics Commission says Pickett “assessed and set the sale price … at a time when he possessed a reasonable interest in purchasing the property himself.” He also personally executed the purchase agreement.

Can you say gross conflict of interest?

The commission has ordered Pickett to pay the state $5,000 and, should he sell the property within the next five years, forfeit any profit to the state.

That’s a small price to pay given the swan song a conflicted Pickett paid for the property and, should he sell after the five-year time frame, the profit he still could realize if he maintains and/or improves the property.

The region that dangled nearly $10 billion worth of incentives in front of Amazon in a failed bid to attract the internet retailing behemoth’s HQ2 – its second headquarters in addition to Seattle — now is crowing about securing a $30 million Amazon distribution facility near Pittsburgh International Airport.

The Findlay Township operation is expected to ultimately employ 800 full-time workers. But this warehouse does not come without a taxpayer cost — $1.6 million in job-creation tax credits. The money comes from the state Department of Community and Economic Development.

The same folks who offered $9.7 billion in incentives for Amazon’s estimated $5 billion investment for that new headquarters now are throwing $1.6 million at a company which posted a net 2018 profit of $10.1 billion.

Feel better, taxpayers?

Once again, class, tax dollars are not venture capital dollars.

The National Science Foundation has awarded a $1.3 million grant to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History for, as the P-G reports it, “climate change education in the region’s rural areas and (to) develop a network for educators, scientists and community activists.”

Given the inclusion of “community activists,” it should be considered a safe bet that this “education” would better be termed “indoctrination” with little in the way of balance.

Neither should tax dollars be used to proselytize climate change theology.

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