Questions to start a new week

Questions to start a new week

By every account – whether it be in the media or through personal anecdotes — this region’s critical system of river locks is one failure away from what would be – not might be — an economic disaster.

How can this be?

A recent Post-Gazette story put it into stark perspective: Locks built nearly 100 years ago and designed to last 50 are so long in the tooth that even the gums and jaw bones are missing.

Commerce-retarding restrictions are the norm, not the exception, for existing barge transport. And it’s hardly an attractive specter for those in the on-deck circle, so to speak. Think of the region’s burgeoning petrochemical and spin-off industries.

Indeed, some work to fix this mess is underway. But too much of it, and for too long, appears to have been of the Band-Aid variety; sufficient and dedicated funding to do what needs to be done wends its way through Congress much like a lost child trying to find his way out of an October corn maze.

The tragic thing about all this is that barge operators pay a hefty tax on diesel fuel to help maintain these locks. In fact, that tax would pay for fully half of the repairs and/or replacements. But Congress never seems to have the gumption to fully fund the balance – to fully fund what it years ago had approved.

Simply put, there’s no excuse. Absolutely none. And sooner than later, one or more of these locks in the regional system will fail irreparably. River commerce requiring passage through the failed lock will grind to a halt. The economy will suffer.. And the politicians will look for somebody else to blame.

A local real estate company will turn an old South Side warehouse into a $110 million office and retail complex.

For those looking for the locator map visual, it’s the old Pittsburgh Warehouse and Terminal Co. east of Station Square. The property is on the National Register of Historic Places.

And while the project sounds exciting and stands to radically transform an area just across from downtown Pittsburgh, there’s a serious question surrounding it:

Part of the financing package includes a $2.5 million state grant. That is, taxpayers are helping to fund this private project.

Why?

In general, state officials likely will argue that such a “state investment” will help create new tax dollars that will “pay for the grant many times over.”

But if that’s the case, why should taxpayers subsidize this project at all? If this project is supposed to be such an economic pump, why should tax dollars be siphoned to prime a pump that needs no priming?

As so often is the case with public policy, those with supposedly good intentions tout the “seen” of their proposals but can’t see the “unseens,” so to speak. That is, they either don’t understand the unintended consequences of their respective actions or mask them for political expediency.

Take, for instance, a unanimous state Public Utility Commission ruling last week that, in the eyes of the PUC, affirms the spirit of a Pennsylvania’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards law.

That law, in effect since October 2017, requires electricity companies to generate a portion of their power from solar sources. And for doing so, they receive a credit.

The PUC ruling was necessary, backers argued, to prevent, as the Post-Gazette reported it, an earlier interpretation “that would have allowed a glut of out-of-state solar credits to continue to depress prices in Pennsylvania’s market.”

The law itself was designed to “’close the borders’ so only Pennsylvania solar projects can participate in Pennsylvania’s market,” the P-G reports.

Oh, where to begin?

Talk about a classic case of one bad government market intervention begetting another market intervention to cover up for the first intervention’s “lie.”

The real question here is this:

Why is “The State” subsidizing solar energy to begin with? If solar energy is the be-all and end-all its promoters claim, the marketplace will reward it. If it’s not, the marketplace will not.

Government – i.e. taxpayers – have no business promoting and/or propping up an energy source that the marketplace continues to adjudge inefficient.

Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Hamlet says the district’s new contract with unionized teachers reflects “give and take on both sides.”

To wit, the contract scrapped merit pay and regressed to a system that primarily rewards seniority/longevity.

Considering the disaster that Pittsburgh Public Schools long have been, why should reasonable people not ask this:

“Isn’t ‘give and take’ the new euphemism for ‘capitulation’”?

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).