The Amazon outrage (& other notes)

The Amazon outrage (& other notes)

Pennsylvania and Allegheny County officials clearly require emergency medical treatment – to screw their heads back on properly.

The administration of Gov. Tom Wolf revealed late Tuesday that the commonwealth pledged $4.6 billion in financial assistance over 25 years to Internet retailing behemoth Amazon to locate its second headquarters (outside Seattle) in the Keystone State.

Let’s do some math here: Amazon was promising $5 billion in investment over two decades to the “winning” bidder.

Who in their right mind would make such an offer and consider it the keystone of an “exciting venture,” as the commonwealth’s proposal worded it.

Worse, the administration says leaders in the state Legislature signed off on the bid. On what planet do Pennsylvania’s mis-representatives live?

State officials rationalize their bid to Amazon as not being tailored solely to Amazon but as being available to any “qualified business” in Pennsylvania. But the taxpayers should not be subsidizing any business.

Amazon announced Tuesday that is has chosen suburban Washington, D.C., and Long Island City, N.Y., for its “split” second headquarters outside of Seattle.

In defiance of the law – a Pennsylvania Office of Open Records smackdown and court affirmation — local officials steadfastly refused to divulge their part of the Amazon bid.

One judge even chided those officials for setting up a shell organization within the Allegheny Conference on Community Development to “launder” the bid out of public view. A Post-Gazette editorial went so far as to say the conference allowed itself to be “prostituted” in promotion of opaque government.

City and county officials are scheduled to hold a news conference Thursday to reveal details of the local bid. But they’re already rationalizing the bid – no existing city or county tax money or revenue would have been employed, they claim – and are waffling on what exactly will be released.

Officials are citing “nondisclosure agreements” with private parties that apparently will not be made public. Damn the public. And damn the judge who ordered the Amazon bid, in toto, to be made public.

The first casualty of Greater Pittsburgh’s Amazon HQ2 experience has been open government. The fact that public officials used public money to hide from the public the public’s business is a very sad chapter and one the public should not soon forget.

But the other casualty is the continuing ignorance of city, county and state officials who are recidivist perverters of sound economics and anything resembling good public policy.

A+ Schools, the local education and advocacy group, is out with its latest assessment of Pittsburgh Public Schools. And it’s not good.

Among the simply stunning findings, as reported by the Post-Gazette — 46 percent of the district’s high school students miss at least two days of school per month. Shockingly, that’s up 5 percent since 2016.

Furthermore, an astounding 76 percent of students in sixth through eighth grade are not performing at grade level in math. Seventy-six percent.

The Allegheny Institute repeatedly has documented the failings of the Pittsburgh Public Schools over the past two decades. Part and parcel to those failings has been the repeated and flaccid efforts to supposedly fix the district’s chronic problems.

As Jake Haulk, the think tank’s president-emeritus and senior advisor, put in May 2017 (in Policy Brief Vol. 17, No. 21), in response to the district announcing its latest remediation effort:

“The prospect of substantially improving overall student performance while also closing the wide racial achievement gap (between black and white students) is daunting at best.

“But before the (school) board and superintendent do anything they should look at all the failed programs and previous strategies that have been announced with so much fanfare and at a cost of untold millions of dollars and tens of thousands of hours of employees’ time.”

The Post-Gazette had some harsh words in a Tuesday editorial for Pittsburgh’s Penguins, Pirates and Steelers — heavily subsidized professional sports franchises — that apparently feel so underappreciated that they produced a dubious economic impact study to “prove” their value.

“The sports teams are far from model citizens and bragging about their economic development numbers won’t change that,” the P-G opines.

The study was released as the Allegheny County Regional Asset District board prepares to rubber stamp an $800,000 appropriation for 2019 to augment a fund that can be used for upgrades to PPG Paints Arena, PNC Park and Heinz Field. The appropriation is expected to be approved year after year.

The franchises have been stung by criticism that taxpayers have subsidized the barons of sport enough, what with the public continuing to pay off construction bonds for facilities that voters rejected in 1997.

The editorial notes that “independent experts (have) questioned the accuracy of the numbers.” As has the Allegheny Institute (in Policy Brief Vol. 18, No. 42).

Jake Haulk concluded “the study is not convincing” given that no methodology or hard numbers were included and that ancillary disparaging comments made by those associated with the franchises hardly are becoming.

The P-G editorial’s headline notes that “Pittsburgh’s sports teams want respect but could do more to earn it.”

No longer putting their hands out and grunting “Gimme!” would be the best place to start.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).