Notes on the state of things

Notes on the state of things

A local media outlet’s recent news blurb blurbed thusly:

“New 24-story (sic) tower expected to be the first private development on the former Civic Arena site scheduled to face the scrutiny of the Pittsburgh Planning Commission.”

It was a reference to First National Bank’s (FNB) coming 26-story skyscraper.

But how soon it has been forgotten that there’s about $10 million in taxpayer money in this deal. Why? FNB, a very large and profitable banking giant, couldn’t get a loan?

We guess there’s “private development” and then there’s “private development,” eh?

What makes this even worse is that taxpayers are subsidizing new premium office space Downtown when the vacancy rate for such space remains at about 20 percent.

The high vacancy rate, by the way, pre-dates the coronavirus pandemic.

Which means the canary has been singing in the coal mine for quite some time. Taxpayer-subsidized office space will only increase the canary’s volume.

Word on Grant Street is that the City of Pittsburgh will form a commission to decide how to spend that $355 million it’s expecting from the Biden administration’s “American Rescue Plan,” known in some circles as the “Additional Taxpayer Indebtedness Plan.”

But already it appears that this new commission – the “Pittsburgh Recovery Task Force” – will be fraught with politicized machinations.

Oh, indeed, there’s talk of using the money to bolster a reserve fund drawn down to near nothing to avoid personnel layoffs and/or furloughs – which once again raises the question of why a city that refused to economize on personnel during the pandemic is being rewarded.

But the task force says it will be guided by something called an “Equity First Spending Plan” designed to address what it says are “racial inequities.” And it has a whole host of spending line items on the table to that end.

“Investments in community-based violence and crime prevention and intervention programs and other police reforms are among the priorities the legislation seeks to address,” a task force member says.

“The money may also be used for community and economic development projects in black neighborhoods and collaborating with leaders in those neighborhoods to come up with ideas for programs that could be funded.”

Ah, money in search of programs vs. programs in search of money. Well, if the money is free, Free, FREE, why not, right?

But this is one-time money from the feds, is it not? How does this task force expect to fund ever more city government programs in the future?

Consider it a rhetorical question.

Word that the City of Pittsburgh has reached a new five-year contract with garbage truck drivers represented by Teamsters Local 249 should prompt the creation of another task force.

To do? To determine why, in a long-standing day and age in which most municipalities contract out refuse service, Pittsburgh still does the job in-house. And you can bet it’s at a taxpayer premium.

Decades ago, an exhaustive study found gross inefficiencies in city-controlled refuse services. And attempts to contract out were stymied by ridiculous poison pills.

Any new task force should put all parties on notice that such cost-inflating shenanigans will not be tolerated.

That said, if you want an idea how ridiculous one aspect of the just-approved contract is, consider this, again as reported by the Trib:

“Overtime will now be paid … at three times the (normal) rate on President’s Day, Good Friday and Veterans Day.”

Three times the normal rate?

Why?

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