Pittsburgh’s Second Bill of Rights Proclamation

Never has so much inanity, ignorance and denial of reality been on display as the Pittsburgh City Council’s proclamation calling for the Federal government to enact a second Bill of Rights to protect the middle class. The proclamation would have the new Bill of Rights include a living wage, education rights and full participation in the electoral process.

How fascinating that Pittsburgh’s City Council would be the promoters of a Bill of Rights which have in effect already been implemented in the City. Are they not happy with Pittsburgh’s results? Has the City’s living wage bill not worked to grow the middle class’ income? Apparently not. Has spending over $20,000 per pupil, having a Promise scholarship program that guarantees money for Pittsburgh school graduates and adopting every politically correct education strategy and gimmick coming down the pike improved education in City schools? Absolutely not. What new educational rights could possibly do more than is already being done? And how likely are they to achieve better results than are already occurring? History says they will be a counterproductive waste of time.

The nation has long since had a minimum wage and a labor policy that gives great power to unions. Look at the industries the unions have decimated through their demands. The nation and the state have had prevailing wage laws for decades. Pennsylvania has labor laws that give public sector unions enormous bargaining advantages over the elected officials representing the taxpayers. And given the incestuous, mutual back scratching relationship between elected officials and public sector unions taxpayers end up getting short shrift. Those laws enrich the government employees but have pushed 26 municipalities in the state into distressed status, including Pittsburgh.

Which of these policies, along with business strangling environmental policies, have been helpful in promoting private sector activity and creating sustainable high paying jobs? Look at the deep blue cities all around the country such as Philadelphia, Detroit, Buffalo, Cleveland, San Bernardino, Scranton, and Harrisburg. Where is the evidence that all the "progressive" programs in those cities have protected the middle class?

The unwillingness to recognize the damage being done to our economy and financial system by progressive programs is to be in complete denial. Model cities ring a bell? How did the Civic Arena work out for the Hill District? Have progressive education policies improved education? Look at academic achievement in Chicago, Atlanta and many other cities across the country where the lack of discipline and kowtowing to teacher unions have held sway for years.

Finally, how can a City that has been totally under the control of one party for 80 years in a country that has been under the control of the same party for much of the same time and is in a country which has a voting rights act have concerns about electoral participation? Where has their party been? The same party that has a very checkered history when it comes to electoral malfeasance. Philly Black Panthers ring a bell anyone? ACORN shenanigans? Then there is the candidate for Congress in Maryland who has had to drop out for voting in both Florida and Maryland in the same election season. Does full participation in the electoral process include being able to cheat?

Rights cannot specify outcomes as the Council apparently believe they can. Rights should ensure freedom to work, start a business or any other pursuit of happiness an individual chooses with minimum of interference and then only to protect the same rights of other people. Rights should ensure the sanctity of life, the ability to own and dispose of private property and the right of free speech, the freedom of the press and religion. In fact, the founding documents including the Bill of Rights and other amendments already do these things as long as politicians and judges do not subvert them. And therein lies the rub for the Council’s proclamation. They are unhappy with the tried and true way the country has guaranteed our rights and produced the greatest prosperity the world has ever seen.

But progressives are never happy. And they have enacted idiotic laws such as those that led to the subprime mortgage debacle that nearly destroyed our financial system. They have worked to choke off the country’s ability to exploit its own resources and to hamstring the ability of entrepreneurs to build and grow businesses. The drafting of the proclamation demonstrates the inability of progressives to be open minded enough to question whether or not all they have done before is doing what they promised? Or will they ever they recognize the unintended consequences of their policies and beliefs? They would choke the goose that lays the golden eggs and expect the goose to keep producing the eggs.

Bill of Rights to Correct Past Assessment Wrongs?

If the efforts of one member of County Council is directed toward eliminating "sticker shock" from new assessed values that will go into effect in January of 2012 through a homeowner "bill of rights", it should be known that the window of opportunity for minimizing the impact of new assessments was lost when the County opted to toss out the planned values for 2006 and adopted a base year plan that used 2002 values.

For those who recall the recent history of Allegheny County reassessments, a history that we documented in pieces over the last few years, the County released new assessment numbers in early 2005 so that taxpayers could absorb their value, have a year to appeal, and have values in place for 2006 for taxation purposes. That would then be followed by annual reassessments in 2009 and years thereafter, thus minimizing the shock taxpayers would undergo when they received a mailing from the County’s Office of Property Assessments.

Those 2005 numbers were described as "uniform and accurate" by the County’s chief assessment officer but were tossed out in favor of other schemes before the County settled on the base year plan, a plan that was later overturned by the PA Supreme Court.

Now with the legal matters settled and the coming year revealing the results of the reassessment, the Council member proposes a variety of fixes for the assessments. Some the County could do (raise the homestead exclusion, assign County employees for on-site verification of property value disputes) while others seem questionable and could put the County in a familiar place, namely the courts of law (phasing in the impact of large increases over several years, compelling payments from municipalities and school districts on appeals of properties). Not mentioned in the "bill of rights" is the fact that the County could commit to a revenue neutral windfall after the reassessment, even though it is permitted to take 105%.

With all the machinations the County has attempted to circumvent its duty in assessing real property, isn’t it time to simply follow through with the process? After all, those that have been greatly underassessed have for many years paid far less than their fair share of taxes, forcing those who are correctly assessed or over assessed to pay higher taxes than they should have paid. When does that subsidy end?