Public policy matters

Public policy matters

There certainly has been lots of speculation in the local media lately about the fortunes – or lack thereof – of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Battlin’ Bucs, of course, ended the 2019 season in moribund fashion – a losing record (69-93, last in the National League Central Division, 22 games out of first place), firing their field manager and signaling they will largely stand pat on player personnel next season.

Many team-watchers are predicting a yawn of a 2020 season, the Pirates’ 20th at PNC Park.

Some have even implored city fathers to intervene, what with taxpayers having underwritten the lion’s share of PNC Park in The Great Stadiums Hoodwink of two decades ago.

And, you’ll recall, for that taxpayer “investment,” Pirates’ fans would get a far more competitive on-field product, a past iteration of ownership promised.

But as John Steigerwald reiterated in a recent Tribune-Review column, that taxpayer-funded stadium “was the worst thing that could happen to real Pirates fans.”

“Why? Because it would allow the Pirates to have bad teams and still sell lots of tickets,” the legendary sports scribe reminded. “If the Pirates were faced with paying for their ballpark, do you think they might have had more incentive to insist on real revenue sharing and a salary cap before they built it?”

Consider it a rhetorical question posed by any economics professor.

And this additional spot-on Steigerwald assessment cannot go unshared:

“The Pirates aren’t any more of a Pittsburgh institution than Eat’n Park and Primanti’s, and nobody was forced to pay for their restaurants.”

Even with the public investment, however, government, by lease, has little to say in player/payroll/management matters. Nor should it, despite the obvious perversion of government authorities being regularly turned into professional sports barons’ landlords.

That question, now so vociferously debated in media circles, could have been rendered moot had government not circumvented the will of the people of Greater Pittsburgh who, at the ballot box, soundly rejected public funding for stadiums.

All this said, it is ironic that Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, who never saw an intervention he didn’t like, stood up for the Pirates’ right to operate its business as it sees fit.

The Port Authority of Allegheny County on Friday is expected to approve an extension to the deal that makes free North Shore Connector rides to and from downtown Pittsburgh through March 2021.

The agreement calls for the Stadium Authority, which controls the land between PNC Park and Heinz Field, to pay the mass-transit agency $265,000 for the service.

Thus, one public agency, using public dollars, will continue to help subsidize the service of another public agency.

Port Authority officials love to talk of all the people that have come to rely on the connector. But unless its policy has changed, at last inquiry it did not even attempt to count ridership on the North Shore Connector leg.

And that raises two evergreen questions:

Why is connector ridership not counted?

And would passengers ride the connector if they had to pay?

Can reasonable people assume that having a third party (or parties) helping to cover the operating cost of the North Shore Connector is, in reality, nothing more than a taxpayer-financed bribe to entice people to ride this taxpayer-financed boondoggle?

Inquiring minds would like to know. For sound public policy demands an answer.

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