PWSA trouble; VisitPittsburgh admonitions

PWSA trouble; VisitPittsburgh admonitions

Word out of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) is that the oversight agency has rejected the City of Pittsburgh’s phased-in plan to start paying for the water supplied to it by the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA).

Instead of paying nothing, as had been the case for decades, the city and PWSA cut a deal in which the city, beginning in 2021, will pay 20 percent of the total annual bill. Payments would rise to 40 percent in 2022; 60 percent in 2023; 80 percent in 2024; 100 percent in 2025 and thereafter.

But the PUC has rejected that deal and says the city must pay full freight as soon as its users are metered. While that leaves a lot of wiggle room – delaying metering to delay paying — it technically could cost the city an additional $20 million annually.

Where the city finds that kind of cash in an already cash-strapped coronavirus pandemic environment is anybody’s guess.

That said, it’s pretty shocking that the city ever had such a sweetheart agreement with the PWSA to receive its water gratis. But such were the dealings with an agency that the city previously used not only for its public utility needs but those political as well.

We’re told it’s “a new day” at the PWSA as it struggles to rehabilitate a system long left to languish and now under the aegis of the PUC. But our doubts loom large.

After all, this is a supposedly independent authority that the mayor already has poison-pilled with a vow to never allow it to be privatized. Politics trumps the efficacious conveyance of a vital public service yet again, we see.

But the huge and growing crater that the coronavirus pandemic has created for Pittsburgh’s finances very well could force the city to privatize water service as the need for cash grows.

What a shame it would be, however, that it took a crisis to force the city to do what it could have done, and should have done, in less turbulent times — and to the public’s benefit.

VisitPittsburgh, the region’s tourism agency, has a new boss. And here’s hoping he’s nothing like the old boss.

Jerad Bachar, interim CEO since Craig Davis left for a similar position in Dallas in December, was named as the new guy on Wednesday.

He’ll certainly have his work cut out for himself, given the coronavirus pandemic has all but ended the tourist trade in the market area VisitPittsburgh serves.

And we certainly hope Bachar has a better handle on economic reality in general than Davis did.

You’ll recall that Davis steadfastly (even after he left) shilled for a new, publicly financed hotel to be attached to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

Never mind that, prior to the pandemic, private investors had stepped up to build hundreds of new hotel rooms that served the center’s needs most satisfactorily.

Nonetheless, Davis favored building taxpayer-subsidized hotel rooms to compete with those built privately. Such Mickey Mouse economics don’t cut it in normal times let alone in times post-pandemic.

Davis also was the guy who fondly recalled 2009’s G-20 economic summit at the convention center. Said Davis, after leaving Pittsburgh:

“The joke was that if we could host the top world leaders successfully, we could certainly handle your convention.”

But the G-20 economic summit was an unmitigated economic disaster for a large swath of downtown Pittsburgh businesses. Security perimeters turned much of the central business district into a ghost town.

Here’s hoping Jerad Bachar does not share Craig Davis’ economic ignorance and revisionist history.

Oh, one more thing:

The Tribune-Review reports that “VisitPittsburgh declined to provide Bachar’s salary.”

Talk about bush-league behavior from an agency that exists and lives off the taxpayer teat – and an agency that has a history of dubious spending to boot.

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