Pittsburgh as the next Hartford

Pittsburgh as the next Hartford

We’ve been talking about object lessons for public officials as the new year bows.

On Wednesday, it was a tutorial that challenged the official “progressive” view that the conveyance of public services never should be privatized.

Today, it’s a well-deserved whack at the perverse notion that suburban residents and/or taxpayers should right the rot created by “progressives” in America’s larger cities. (It’s a notion that Greater Pittsburgh voters rejected overwhelmingly nearly 24 years ago, you’ll recall.)

As a Wall Street Journal commentary recently documented, Hartford, Conn., the erstwhile insurance capital of the world (and state capital), now gives the word “cesspool” a bad name.

Crime is soaring. Population continues to tank. Poverty is the rule, not the exception.

“The city spends more than $400 million annually on education ($17,260 per student) yet nearly 30 percent of its students don’t graduate high school on time,” The Journal reports. “Only 18 percent of students in grades 3 through 8 test at age-appropriate levels in math, and 25 percent do so in reading.”

It could be Pittsburgh’s sister city in that regard – an ugly sister city, that is.

And guess what? Hartford has been run almost exclusively by Democrats since 1948. It’s a piker compared to Pittsburgh’s one-party mess.

Now, in an attempt to fix this mess – “excessive debt levels, large amounts of tax-exempt government property, runaway pension costs, structural budget deficits and a property-tax rate that is the highest in the state” – Hartford’s powers that be have been busy playing the game of “Blame Some Other Dudes.”

When a “regional tax-base sharing” plan was rejected for what it was – an attempt to have the suburbs bail out the city – leaders whined about the public firmly planting its thumb to nose and waggling its fingers furiously.

But when Hartford then threatened to declare bankruptcy, the state forced all of Connecticut’s taxpayers to pay off all the city’s general obligation bonds — $534 million worth – over the next three decades.

Instead of doing anything to address Hartford’s systemic failure, city leaders continue to tout “regionalism” as the socially just path to making this self-inflicted boo-boo better.

“Some other dudes” (or policies) are to blame – including, supposedly, “outdated” suburban zoning laws that led to racial and economic inequity.

And, hey, Hartford’s rationalizers go, there would be no suburbs but for the city.

But as Bob Stefanowski, the Republican nominee for governor in 2018, notes in his same Journal piece, “The horrible economic policies of the politicians—and public-employee unions—who run Connecticut’s cities evidently has nothing to do with the condition they are in.”

Of course not.

As Stefanowski concludes:

“Cities like Hartford need to lower taxes and reduce regulations to attract business and create jobs.

“Mayors need to clean up troubled neighborhoods and address crime, invest in charter and magnet schools, and allow education funding to follow the child, giving parents the ability to choose where their kids go to school, rather than trapping them in underperforming districts.”

Are you listening, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto? Or are you so blinded by your zeal for unsustainable “green energy,” bike lanes, constantly raising the cost of doing business and protecting vagrants Downtown (among myriad other things) that you’ve lost all semblance of what “governing” really is?

Pittsburgh might not be Hartford. Yet. But it’s damn close. And it’s getting closer every day.

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