Pols vs. sound public policy

Pols vs. sound public policy

Sound public policy should be based on what’s best for the public, not what’s best for the pols directing it. Unfortunately, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and the city council expected to rubber stamp a new water and sewer agreement never received the memo.

The Peduto administration and the long-beleaguered Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) have reached a deal that no longer will let political machinators milk the PWSA for their cash needs and, instead, will force the authority to be run more like a business.

But only up to a certain point, mind you.

“There are two major issues that are being addressed,” Mayor Bill Peduto told the Tribune-Review. “The first is a formal agreement that will keep the water that is owned by the people of Pittsburgh public, so it takes off the table any of the ideas of privatization.

“The second is that PWSA will now be treated as a utility, the same way we work with Duquesne Light or Peoples Gas,” he said. “They will be required to pay such things as permit fees and they will charge the city for things such as the use of water.”

Goodness gracious, where does one start with a “progressive” bureaucrat blinded by his own hubris?

First and foremost, the agreement creates a proverbial “poison pill” that is anathema to efficiency. Are there not hundreds, if not thousands, of private water providers across the United States that provide efficient and affordable service, regulated by state public utility commissions? Here’s a bulletin for Peduto & Co. — it is the norm, not the exception.

Outright barring any future consideration of privatization will only encourage more game-playing politics and ensure less efficiency in the conveyance of a public good than would be better delivered by the private sector.

Those who laud the preservation of “public ownership” of this long-abused authority might as well be bending over for repeated spankings and, after each swat, saying “Thank you, sir, may I have another?!”

Peduto’s “progressive” hubris hardly is limited to purposely traducing efficiency. As WESA Radio reported recently:

“Members of the City of Pittsburgh’s Comprehensive Municipal Pension Trust Fund board will explore divesting from fossil fuels, firearms and ammunitions and for-profit prisons. This is at the direction of Mayor Bill Peduto, who sits on the board.”

City spokesman Tim McNulty told the radio station that “We would be willing to make a sacrifice, if necessary, on our returns if it meant a better planet, safer streets or more equal incarceration for some of our affected communities.”

But as Ralph Sicuro, chairman of the pension board, reminded:

“Our main responsibility has to be our fiduciary responsibility, which is to ensure the health of the fund and that benefits are made to the beneficiaries. Everything else is secondary to that,” he told the Trib.

No kidding.

And as a Post-Gazette editorial reminded, pet political causes extrapolated “could take the city down a path to a very slim portfolio. … The stock market brings enough ups and downs. The pension fund shouldn’t have to wrestle with political volatility, too.”

The last time we checked, the returns usually aren’t very robust for Utopian pipe dreams.

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