In a bold New Year’s Eve gambit, Mayor Ravenstahl’s veto was able to stymie City Council efforts to institute a “prevailing wage” law in Pittsburgh through a bill it passed unanimously on December 21. Unable to override the veto because of the last minute Mayoral maneuver, irritated Council members have promised to reintroduce the legislation in 2010.
In a moment of economic lucidity, Pittsburgh’s Mayor on December 31 vetoed the so called "prevailing wage" bill Council passed in the waning days of 2009. The late veto made it impossible for Council to put together the votes needed to overturn the veto.
The legislation, a last minute Christmas gift to labor unions, was passed on December 21. That opened the opportunity for the Mayor to veto the bill on the last day of the year. One wonders about the Council’s rush to pass the bill in the last few days with the very real threat of a last minute veto hanging over the process. Was all this carefully choreographed as a Council sop to the unions that was never meant to be put into effect? We will know if Council revives the bill in 2010 and overturns another veto.
The bottom line is the prevailing wage bill was terrible legislation and the Mayor’s reasons for vetoing it were extremely logical. It would have made Pittsburgh even less competitive for attracting companies and investment into the City by aggressively interfering in the market’s ability to set wages through supply and demand.
More devastating, it would have sent yet another signal to the local, national and global business communities that Pittsburgh is slipping deeper into an anti-free market, statist approach to public policy.
We can only hope this poorly thought out and insidious bill never sees the light of day again.
A coalition of community activists, environmental groups, and labor unions are becoming increasingly vocal on how development is supposed to look in Pittsburgh-one City Council member called them "a politically powerful force to reckon with" and we can see firsthand the result of their efforts. The URA tells a hotel developer to seek a higher classification of a "green" certification; demonstrations on the North Shore and at the Mayor’s office over community benefits; and now calls to mandate a living wage for projects taking public money are just the latest instances of action by this coalition.
Let’s take the living wage: it is back again after the City and County both resisted enacting it in the early part of the decade. With no discussion of a Countywide provision the City would make itself an island, a point noted by developers. And of course developers who don’t come begging for assistance (not many of those nowadays) would not have to comply with the regulations should they become law, a point noted by union activists. But it is a sure bet that this coalition would stage protests and file complaints if a large-scale development (built without public money) did not pay a living wage or was not environmentally friendly-they would be accused of "skirting the law".
But here is the bigger point that merits debate: after numerous public-private partnerships, state financed developments, tax increment finance projects, stadiums, a convention center, a new casino, etc. when do the private developments that were supposed to create family sustaining wages-without more government intervention-start popping up? We were told that doing the big subsidized developments would create a critical mass that would attract private spin-offs-now nearly a decade after the late 1990s rush of activity we still see elected officials and interest groups jockeying for ever more special provisions. And they will be anything but a "silent partner".