The Parks Tax & Peduto’s games

The Parks Tax & Peduto’s games

The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy has spent about $714,000 in promotion of a Nov. 5 ballot referendum that would raise property taxes to fund the parks system.

While some have questioned the prudence of a group that’s been begging for money turning around and spending no small chunk of change to obtain tax dollars, there’s another, larger, question in play.

Here’s what will appear on Tuesday’s ballot:

    “Shall the Pittsburgh Home Rule Charter be amended to establish a dedicated Parks Trust Fund beginning in 2020 to improve, maintain, create and operate public parks; improve park safety; equitably fund parks in underserved neighborhoods throughout Pittsburgh; be funded with an additional 0.5 mill levy ($50 on each $100,000 of assessed real estate value); secure matching funds and services from a charitable city parks conservancy; and assure citizen participation and full public disclosure of spending?”

Of course, the question leaves some vital things up in the air, as usually is the case. Topping the list, as some opponents have noted, is how the money’s overlords, the city and the conservancy, formally would divvy up the proceeds.

Another issue is that catch-all but typically hard-to-define clause (on purpose?) “equitably fund parks in underserved neighborhoods throughout Pittsburgh.”

What, pray tell, does that really mean? Who defines “equitably”? Who defines “underserved”? And how? What metrics are to be gauged?

It long has been the practice du jour,  in most government jurisdictions, to write enabling legislation that enacts an adopted ballot referendum.

But, that said, the process leaves the door open for voters getting the kind of pig in a poke that they never intended. What kind of pigs will City of Pittsburgh voters find in their pokes post-Tuesday should the Parks Tax be approved?

An Allegheny County Common Pleas Court has struck three Pittsburgh gun-control ordinances for the simple reason that they are in contravention of state law.

Of course, the Peduto administration has developed something of a cottage industry of passing legislation either prohibited by state law and/or the city’s home rule charter.

That has led to a number of lawsuits, defeats, appeals, defeats and then finding (or hoping to find) a sympathetic “progressive” majority on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to, and in circuitous (if not tortuous) fashion, rule that we should pay no attention to the rule of law behind that curtain.

And in true fashion, Peduto & Co. say they’ll appeal the latest court rebuke. The mayor has vowed to take the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary. As the fictional cartoon dog Astro might say, “Rots o ruck rif rat run!”

Peduto acolytes like to remind that, in this case, taxpayers are not on the hook for the legal challenge; some legal eagles are doing the work gratis. But there’s still a steep cost.

The scheming still clogs the courts with debate on an ordinance that relied on the dishonesty of parsed phraseology, one that blows raspberries at a prohibition that clearly says what it means and means what it says.

Judge Joseph M. James called out the city for that very machination; Peduto claims James is tone-deaf to nuance. Please.

Were Peduto & Co. sincere in their efforts, instead of the politically expedient grandstanding in which they’ve been engaged, they’d be lobbying the Legislature to consider amending what’s known as the commonwealth’s “pre-emption” law.

But knowing that won’t happen, they continue to play children’s games.

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