Pittsburgh schools, court-shopping & ‘lectric buses

Pittsburgh schools, court-shopping & ‘lectric buses

That giant thud you might have heard on Monday ‘round these parts was not a NASA-missed asteroid impacting the Earth. No, it was word that Pittsburgh Public Schools’ proposed 2020 budget includes a 2.3 percent tax increase.

The academically moribund district is facing an operating deficit of more than $27 million. It laments, and not without ample merit, that it had, for 15 years ceded a share of the earned-income tax to a city government that recently was removed from state oversight.

Restoration of that money stream, valued at just over $18 million, could negate the need for next year’s tax hike and those in future years, school district officials say.

The same proposal was floated a year ago; the dog would not hunt. Does anyone really believe it will this year?

All that said, and no matter the details, talk of a tax hike in Pittsburgh Public Schools’ climate of academic failure surely is being greeted with an en masse “Are you kidding me?”

As Allegheny Institute President-emeritus Jake Haulk minced no words (in Policy Brief Vol. 19, No. 40, last month), academic achievement in Pittsburgh Public Schools is an oxymoron for far too many students.

“Year after year, graduation after graduation, a huge percentage of students are going into the world with totally inadequate reading, writing and arithmetic skills thinking they are prepared,” Haulk said.

Expecting taxpayers to fork over more money for, in their minds, such continuing failure is an outrage.

It appears Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto continues to “court-shop” for a judicial body that will embrace his “progressive/social democrat” proclivities.

Why else would he continue to appeal legally rock solid court rulings that Lamar Advertising clearly is within its rights to – GASP – use the massive and iconic billboard space on the side of Mt. Washington for – DOUBLE GASP – advertising?

Allegheny County Common Pleas Court first shut Peduto down. So did Commonwealth Court.

Now he’s planning an appeal to the state Supreme Court where, on other matters, he’s found a sympathetic ear for his doctrine that the law can be bended, folded, stapled and otherwise mutilated to sate his warped extralegal philosophies.

Those much-hyped electric buses that the Port Authority of Allegheny County plans to use for the Downtown-to-Oakland Rapid Bus Project still haven’t been delivered for testing.

Two of those buses – powered by batteries and not by overhead electric lines — originally were supposed to be delivered by the end of September. But now the Post-Gazette reports the authority “is expected to receive its first two electric buses before the end of the year.”

Electric buses, in general, have proven to be a challenge to integrate into mass-transit systems in various metropolitan areas across the nation.

Quality and range problems have plagued some models. So, too, has the promised time in which to re-charge them and what happens in the real world (i.e. heaters and air-conditioning happen, as does heat and cold). That has called into question the basic efficacy of using them, many of which come at double the cost of contemporary transit buses.

And in some locales, particularly Los Angeles, allegations of your basic garden-variety graft, greed and corruption have surfaced.

Whether electric buses are ready for prime time remains to be seen.  But as has been the case with so many envirocratic initiatives, they end up being more red (as in not cost-effective) than “green.”

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