Pittsburgh Schools Head Asks For Ideas

Staring at a nightmare of intertwined problems seemingly of Gordian Knot proportions, Pittsburgh’s Superintendent issued a plaintive call for help in the form of ideas about how to solve the conundrum. Joining in a non-helpful way, the Post-Gazette weighed in editorially praising the school for not raising tax rates for twelve years, ignoring entirely the tremendous ongoing decline in enrollment over the period and the increases in other revenue that have allowed the schools to keep spending well above $500 million.

Here’s an idea for the Superintendent. Send to the Board a proposal to set aside $10 million to create a thousand $10,000 scholarships that can be used by parents who wish to send their children to non-public alternatives. With the current spending of over $21,000 per student that would represent a savings for taxpayers. And if the recipient students perform better academically, which most probably will, it is a win-win for taxpayers and students. If demand for scholarships is greater than a thousand, arrange to expand the program year after year.

But here’s the problem that will have to be confronted. With declining enrollment, school employment, including teachers, would be reduced. No doubt there will a lot of screaming by the unions and their supporters about the cuts. If that happens, the parents of school children in the City will be able to see what is really important to the Board-their kids’ education or kowtowing to unions.

The Board will be under intense pressure from unions and the indefatigable defenders of the public education monopoly who have long since forfeited any moral claim to their anti-choice positions. Years after year and decade after decade miserable academic performance and wasted potential of so many students lives. Where do they go to get back the opportunity derived from a good education?

The truly remarkable part of the story is that the union and the defenders of public monopoly education apparently feel no responsibility or remorse. For the unions, it is understandable if not defensible. They are about their members and their power. Students are and have always been secondary. Maybe some individual teachers would like to put students first but they toe the union line when they have to choose between the students and union loyalty.

Bottom line, the Superintendent should make this such an important priority that she will threaten to resign if the Board refuses to consider the idea.

Budget Pain in Pennsylvania

Faced with a revenue shortfall in the current fiscal year and ongoing large hikes in the funds needed to cover pension costs, the Governor is almost certain to present a quite austere budget for fiscal year 2012-2013. And as expected the cries of "not fair" and "too harsh" are rising and will be heard vociferously in the days ahead.

Interestingly, when there are austere budgets and some programs get no increases or have actual cuts in their allocations, pundits and critics talk about the pain the budget will inflict. Isn’t it peculiar that the same pundits and beneficiaries of public largesse are seldom, if ever, heard commenting on the pain taxpayers are feeling when they are forced to cough up the money to fund programs and when their wallets are tapped even further to meet the spending demands of special interests?

No, it is always those whose gravy train is threatened who scream the loudest. Why is that? It’s a classic case of public choice theory. When the benefits of government spending are concentrated, as is the case with teacher unions, a decline in spending is felt more acutely than the pain of higher tax revenue spread over the entire population of taxpayers, many of whom have been convinced that tax hikes are a good thing. Then too, because so many special interest group members and their families and friends are also taxpayers, the ability of taxpayers to present a united opposition to tax hikes is even more difficult.

Thus, the beneficiaries often present a more strenuous opposition to spending cuts than the opposition taxpayers are able to mount against tax increases. Only by electing a majority of people who are fervently committed to resisting the massive pressure from many powerful groups to raise spending and taxes can the taxpayers ever have a fighting chance. Apparently, that is the case in Harrisburg right now. And that is driving the special interests nuts.

Will the current favorable situation last beyond the next election? One can hope.

Port Authority Staring into the Abyss—Again

In what is fast becoming an annual rite of fall, the Port Authority (PAT) has issued an advisory telling one and all that disastrous service reductions are coming unless state taxpayers come up with tens of millions of additional dollars to support its spendthrift ways. 


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Transit Backer Rally Draws Crowd of 50 People

According to a Tribune Review report this morning (December 17), a rally organized to encourage state legislators to provide more money to the Port Authority drew about 50 to the Mellon Square event. 50 people? What? Couldn’t organizers rouse enough off duty PAT workers, other labor demonstrators and social activists to boost the crowd number?

One can understand the lack of PAT worker participation. They won the latest skirmish over funding with the SPC capitulating to the Governor’s scheme to shift money to PAT-unless the federal government disallows the shifting of money intended for capital projects in the state to PAT’s operating budget or Congress neglects to include the money in upcoming appropriations. The workers are now confident they will not be laid off in drastic numbers and will not be asked to make concessions. So why bother with rallying when it involves going into town on a cold, wintry day?

The well-intentioned organizers should have learned something from the small attendance at the rally. To wit: most people do not want their taxes raised to create a dedicated source of revenue for PAT. That ship sailed years ago when the County adopted a local one percent sales tax to fund regional assets. PAT was not on the list of eligible assets.

Besides, most informed citizens know by now that any increase in revenue to PAT will only strengthen the resolve of the unions not to make compensation or work rule concessions at the next round of contract bargaining. Per rider costs will not come down and eventually more routes will be trimmed or eliminated despite more money from a dedicated revenue stream. It’s Parkinson’s Law for money in union dominated entities. Spending will rise to meet and exceed all available revenue.

In other words, informed citizens have seen how this game is played and are tired of it. PAT’s irresponsible financial behavior over the years has convinced many in the legislature and a large portion of the population that the transit agency is a money pit and requires dramatic remedial action from the Legislature to repair its out of control costs-not more tax dollars.

How pathetic. The only thing the parade led by a PAT bus accomplished was to snarl Downtown traffic. Inquiring minds are probably wondering if things are so tight at PAT how is it able to assign a bus and driver to lead a parade of protesters? How much did that cost? Did the driver work without pay? Doubtful. Did the protesters pay for the fuel? And just think of the carbon footprint of this motorcade. Mon Dieu!