Prevailing Wage About to Become Law in Pittsburgh

On Monday, Pittsburgh City Council unanimously voted to adopt a prevailing wage law. One more vote from Council and the bill goes to the Mayor for a second time. The first time the united Council passed the bill it was vetoed by the Mayor on December 31st and Council was unable to gather enough votes to override it. Undeterred, they vowed to reintroduce the legislation and once again pass it unanimously-which they have just done.

Now it will be interesting to see the how the Mayor reacts.

He tried to play both sides of the fence by denouncing the prevailing wage bill as a killer of (subsidized) development, yet introduced his own competing prevailing wage bill, which Council summarily ignored. Now he needs to contemplate his next decision. He either vetoes the bill again, signs it or allows it to become law without his signature. If he vetoes, chances are high the veto will be overridden. Thus, barring a sudden and unexpected outbreak of sanity on Council, prevailing wage legislation is on the verge of becoming law.

It appears City is all but certain to be saddled with another market interfering mandate. A mandate that will prolong the City’s exit from distressed status.

Putting the Cart before the Parking Lease Horse

Now comes Councilman Dowd with legislation requiring the Parking Authority to receive City Council approval before it issues requests for proposals to sell or lease the Authority’s assets. This is a bit premature as well as ill advised.

Cast your mind back to August and September when pension reform legislation was being hammered out in Harrisburg. The City pleaded with the Legislature to give Pittsburgh two more years to solve its woefully underfunded pension plans. One of the major promises made by the City was to privatize through a lease agreement the Parking Authority’s garages. By so doing, the City hoped to raise as much as a net of $200 million to be applied to the pension plans to bring them up to 50 percent funded.

The City has been talking about a lease of parking garages for about a year and still has not issued a request for proposals-RFPs. This is a necessary step to determine whether there is a bidder who will offer enough money to make the deal worthwhile. It does not represent a commitment to proceed with any RFP responders.

By requiring Council approval 60 days in advance of issuing RFPs, the process could get bogged down in endless wrangling over RFP language and delay a process that needs to be expedited if the City is to meet its obligation to have its pension plans 50 percent funded by 2011.

The City has committed itself in good faith to the Legislature to pursue leasing the garages. To put road blocks in the path so soon after the pension reform legislation was enacted would surely raise legislators’ eyebrows. What will be next-approval of the deal itself after the contracts are drawn up?

It is time to proceed swiftly and carefully to get the deal done. If the City does not meet its 2011 target, its pension plans will be placed under state control with onerous payment provisions, the very thing the City fought to avoid. Is the plan to scuttle any parking lease and then go back to the legislature and ask for more time or perhaps even direct financial aid to cover pension shortfalls? Is this yet another cynical effort to ensure major privatization never comes to Pittsburgh?

One would think that a mayoral veto is inevitable if the Dowd bill is passed by Council.