As today is one of the last days for Councilwoman Payne, I got to wondering:
Given the animosity between Ms. Payne and former Councilman Sala Udin, and
Given the fact that Ms. Payne is
probably going to challenge Rep. Jake Wheatley for his State House seat, and
Given that the incoming Councilman Daniel LaVelle was an aide to both Udin and Wheatley, and
Given the well known animosity and rancorous election between Ms. Payne and Mr. LaVelle's supporters...
Do you think Ms. Payne will "drop a deuce" somewhere in the office, just out of spite?
Monday, December 28, 2009
As today is one of the last days for Councilwoman Payne, I got to wondering:
Posted by O at 11:39 PM
So as the year is winding to a close, we figured we'd write a post of all of our favorite posts from the previous year, which is, in no way filler because we're too hungover to come up with something new.
The posts that generated the biggest response was the four part G-20 Guide to Pittsburgh (I, II, III, IV), which nearly broke my visitor counter. Our favorite line of the whole series was:
At some point, steel happened and it defined the Region; then it stopped, which also defined the Region.which was also very much enjoyed by a member of dead tree media (who shall go nameless for now).
To be honest, though: the initial idea was to be a post along the lines of "Dan Onorato Announces Pittsburgh Rules for G-20 Visitors," and was going to detail penalties for not observing the Pittsburgh left, stealing parking chairs, or wearing Cleveland paraphernalia. We started to write the post and then decided that the format was too restrictive, and opted for the travel guide instead. Then the damned thing near exploded.
But some of our other personal favorites:
Doug Shields Bows out of Mayor's Race (If you've been to a Council District 5 Public meeting, you'll be shocked to know that this is not a transcript.)
Angry Drunk Bureaucrat Slams Dowd's & Ravenstahl's Half-assed Campaign Finance Proposals (ADB is still running for Overlord, thankyouverymuch)
Zober Begins Work on Volume 5 of Enemies List (We got a few comments praising this post from people who have since disappeared under mysterious circumstances.)
Your Millenarianism for Today (Fun Fact: PA Liquor Control Laws were written by Moses.)
Anthony Coghill Wants to Show You His Crotch (At the heart of this blog, you will find a snickering 12-year old.)
Victims 2009 - Part 2 (If for nothing than the oblique Star Trek reference.)
Sneak Peak at Web-based Permitting (We worked very hard on the picture and crashed Photoshop three times.)
Adding to the Noise (The line "No more evil subsidized corn, Agnes" tickles us in a place that is both pleasurable and creepy.)
PA State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe Believes Dwarves Are Stealing His Socks (PA Politicians be crazy.)
And our least favorite post of the year?
This one, actually... as we felt it was a cop out and merely filler for the weekly quota.
Posted by O at 10:57 PM
As far as you know, we have a friend who every year assembles personal do-dads, newspaper clippings, photos, letters, etc. and ceremonially burns them over the remnants of his Christmas tree on December 31. In the spirit of the New Year, it is a cathartic chance to start afresh, free from the burdens of the previous year and to start fresh anew. Around here, we have plenty to throw onto our virtual fire:
* G-20: Good grief. If there was one Pittsburgh-National-International story that we got sick of during the year it was the G-20 brouhaha. Even though it only lasted for a few days, we were stuck with, not only the barricades, the traffic restrictions, a dead downtown, security up the wazoo, police overreaction, and pseudo-anarchists with unfathomable rage towards pancakes, we got hammered with nausea inducing, feel good Pittsburgh stories from the media telling us how great we were and how awesome it is in Pittsburgh. Perhaps it's our deep seated Catholic guilt, our annoying Protestant work ethic, or our lingering zen-like stoicism, but frankly we got tired of it and we just wanted to get back to our regular lives.
* The Great Recession: Of course, even if we wanted to get back to our regular lives, we couldn't as about 10% of us had been laid off. We watched friends and relatives struggle with trying to find a job, barely holding on to the ones they had, applying and reapplying for unemployment, losing their houses, or going bankrupt. We'll admit that once or twice we tasted the cat's food, you know, just in case we were going to have to resort to eating it somewhere down the line. Hopefully the worst has past.
* The Health Care Debate: Nothing this year brought out the worst in the country than the idea that people probably shouldn't worry about going broke trying to live. It has been a debate that, in more civilized times, would have been about the costs of Federal Government intervention versus the benefits of providing long term cost controls to the Citizenry, but instead devolved into petty partisanship, name calling, lies, and assorted blubbering craziness (both real and feigned). At the (near) end of the rancorousness, we sadly saw some of the worst aspects of our system exposed and came to the realization that a lot of the people we put into higher office are not just douchebags, but ultra-mega douchebags.
* Local Politics: And at the local level, we had another year of Lilliputian politics in Pittsburgh involving an (effectively) uncontested Mayoral race, a County Executive intent on doing nothing that would jeopardize his run for higher office, local elected "leadership" that can barely find its own asshole with two hands and a flashlight, and the stinking suspicion that money and election contributions (rather than good policy) is what happens to be driving Pittsburgh Government. Perhaps it is too optimistic, but I would like a month to go by without a story about political indiscretions, rumors of bribery, grand jury investigations, or City Council Circus behavior.
* The Mon-Fayette Expressway: It's on my list of things to burn every year, but, as the folks in Harrisburg have lost the receipt, I can't even exchange it for something nicer or more useful.
Well, that's my burn list. Feel free to add more in the comments.
Posted by O at 9:56 PM
Monday, December 21, 2009
And so it came to pass that all that was wrong was now right and those that deserved to were certain to live a long and happy life.
Or did it?
There have been mumblings that the Mayor's Office was playing a high stakes game of chicken, in which the real goal was to get PILOT commitments from the Universities and from certain larger non-profits (like Highmark), which they did. Of course, that would mean that someone in the Mayor's Office was being particularly clever and was at least five steps ahead of the opponents at all time.
But, we know that this can't be true because, ipso facto people that work in local government are not very smart. Believe me; I am, frankly, dumber than a bag of rocks... and I like to think of myself as one of the smart ones 'round these here parts, because I recognize that I am, frankly, dumber than a bag of rocks. Other folks *cough* gastheif *cough* are not as blessed.
I'll tell you what's...er... telling though -- this picture of Lukey and Mark Nordenberg.
Notice the hand in the pocket (something that we've mentioned before). According to the Pop Up Video for Alanis Morisette's "One Hand In My Pocket" video, if someone always puts his hands in his pocket then this person might be lacking self confidence and so always feels uncomfortable around other people.
So, make of that what you will.
If you've followed this blog with any regularity, you'll be familiar with my peculiar bugbear with regard to vacant land. If so, feel free to skip this post as it devolves into the typical rantings and raving you'd expect from someone who's obsessed with things like "tax increments" and "the name of Captain Picard's fish on Start Trek: The Next Generation."* If you don't know what the hell I'm talking about, keep reading.
From the P-G:
Blight and abandoned properties are a "growing crisis," robbing this region of millions of dollars. So says a report just released by Sustainable Pittsburgh, the host of a summit on the topic last week.Mike Madison jumps in with a proposal over here, in which he argues for a University sponsored land banking system, which the City does not have at this point in any workable form (although several other Cities do... the land bank bit, not the University part, that is). However, the most important bit being
Vacant and decrepit land is a regional liability in marketing and attracting investment, said John Kromer, a senior consultant at the Fels Institute at the University of Pennsylvania and the keynote speaker.
"If people actually knew how much money they are losing by not having these properties on the tax rolls it might spur them to action," said Ginette Walker Vinski, communications manager for Sustainable Pittsburgh. "If you make the economic case on a regional level, there's so much money we could be making..."
Most of that vacant land is taxable in theory, but there is no tax revenue associated with it. It's not being developed.Which brings me to my one string harp:
Back in the day, when the Sabre Systems property assessments first came in, the Pittsburgh City Council, in an effort to cut off its nose to spite its face, eliminated the land/building split on property taxes. Up until this point, land was taxed at a higher rate than the building that sat upon it. When the land/building split was removed, the combined value of the land & building were taxed at the same rate.
So, what this means is that under the old system, if you had a vacant property with a low value, but you were taxed at a really high rate; under the new system you have a vacant property with a low value with a really low rate. If you are a rational actor, therefore, under the new system it is in your best interest to keep a property vacant or a low value building in a state of disrepair, else your taxes go up. Moreover, because I depend on tax money to feed my family, if you're sitting on a piece of vacant property for an extended period of time, you're still paying a really high rate to the City.
I would be curious, therefore, to see what the rate of vacant and abandoned properties was prior to the elimination of the land/building split and the rate is currently. My sense, from nothing more than driving down Fifth Avenue, is that the rate of vacant and abandoned properties has gone up.
Now, I'm not saying that reinstituting the split is going to fix this property problem, but I am saying that it should provide negative incentives for people to leave property vacant.
But that's my one note tune and I guess I'm the only one singing it.
* A virtual cookie to the first one to know this one. No Googling.
University of Pittsburgh President Mark Nordenberg and President of the ΓΟΠ Fraternity, Luke Ravenstahl, reached an agreement today that would not revoke the fraternity's charter in advance of the Homecoming Game.
"We do not think that it's right to extort money from the college," said Nordenberg at a press conference, "but fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life."
Both Nordenberg and Ravenstahl have been at loggerheads regarding the responsibility of fees in lieu of taxes for the Fraternity, as well as the presence of a dead horse in the President's office.
President Ravenstahl issued a statement saying, "The issue here is not whether we broke a few rules, or took a few liberties with our female party guests - we did. You can't hold a whole fraternity responsible for the behavior of a few, sick twisted individuals. For if you do, then shouldn't we blame the whole fraternity system? And if the whole fraternity system is guilty, then isn't this an indictment of our educational institutions in general? I put it to you - isn't this an indictment of our entire American society? Well, you can do whatever you want to us, but we're not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America."
Details of the agreement were not released, but sources close to the story indicate that the Fraternity will be lifted from double secret probation and will be returned their stuff, even the stuff they didn't steal. In exchange, the Homecoming parade will not be disrupted by marbles, tanks, or Kevin Bacon.
The ΓΟΠ Fraternity has been accused with dumping a truckload of fizzies into the swim meet, delivering the medical school cadavers to the alumni dinner, filling the trees with underwear every Halloween, and making the toilets explode every spring.
The Fraternity will be holding their annual Toga Party next Friday, which, they remind everyone, "will not be an orgy."
Details on the full scope of the deal are still forthcoming.
Local Steelers fan Tony "Duckman" Sculluci issued a statement today apologizing for a failed on-side kick that nearly resulted in a loss to the Green Bay Packers yesterday at Heinz Field.
Mr. Sculluci had inadvertently allowed a friend identified only a "Joey" to momentarily place an Iron City beer onto his Terrible Towel, following a fourth quarter touchdown.
"We were all there in the rumpus room, and I had just finishing waving it and I put it down to grab some more nachos, when 'Joey' goes and puts his beer down on the towel. Next thing I know *BAM*! 9 Yards. I should have been more careful."
Insiders speculate that "Joey" is known Cleveland Browns fan Joseph Carey, a long time college friend of Mr. Sculluci, who may have purposefully placed the beer on the towel in order to guarantee a Steelers loss. Calls to the Carey residence were not returned.
Pittsburgh sports analyst and commentator Guy Junker says that this was probably not Mr. Sculluci's fault.
"I'm sure that the Steelers Organization appreciates the dedication of it's fan base and how personal they take the team's record, but one man's actions at home would not explain the poor execution of that play, especially considering the recent string of losses. If anything, it means that there are thousands of fans that are not wearing their lucky jerseys, aren't listen to the radio during the game, or haven't touched their Myron Cope bobble head doll prior to the game. Pittsburgh fans everywhere really need to step up their game."
A Steelers Nationwide alert has been issued by the Rooney Family. Steelers fans are encouraged to double their "fandemonium" and the team has shifted money away from the Offensive Line and Special Teams budgets to assist in these efforts.
Mr. Sculluci, however, remains penitent.
"I always knew that I had a mystical bond with my team, but I had no idea that it was directly connected to their ability to execute onside kicks. For that I am truly sorry."
Friday, December 18, 2009
Caught this story in the Trib:
The cafeteria in Pennsylvania's Capitol was shut down and workers scoured the facility Friday after health inspectors found evidence of a rodent infestation and dishwashing water that wasn't hot enough.The word "Under the Dome" is that the rats in the legislature were tired of the competition.
The ground-floor cafeteria, a popular coffee and lunch spot for visitors to the statehouse and people who work there, was closed Thursday after state Department of Agriculture officials made an unannounced inspection.
"There were mouse droppings around the facility too numerous to mention," said Justin Fleming, a spokesman for the state Agriculture Department.
The droppings, which indicate the presence of live mice, are considered an imminent health risk, Fleming said. A leak that prevented the water in dishwashers from becoming hot enough to sterilize plates and utensils also was considered an imminent threat, he said...
Rumors are that former Democratic Whip Bill DeWeese had been seen last week fighting a rodent for a piece of cheese. That rodent was later identified as Republican Minority Whip Mike Turzai.
The foul, disease filled festering vermin will be trapped and sent off to be used as snake food, while the mice will be humanely released elsewhere on Capital grounds.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
I don't do this usually, but from TPM:
At today's conservative "Code Red" rally against the health care bill, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) rallied the faithful with a fun historical and literacy reference: "It's the charge of the light brigade!"OK, maybe if Ms. Bachmann had compared her compatriots to the British, or the Ottomans, or even the French following the charge of the light brigade, maybe the analogy would have been apt. But she didn't so it isn't.
The fun part here is that the Light Brigade lost that famous battle of the Crimean War -- they lost it badly, sustaining heavy numbers of deaths and injuries. They are celebrated not for victory, but for their bravery in taking on truly insurmountable odds in a military disaster.
So, Rep. Bachmann, here are some other things you probably shouldn't compare your friends to:
This is a start anyway; I hope it helps.
Pompeii The Titanic The Darién Scheme Custer's Last Stand Smoot-Hawley tariff The Chevy Chase Show Vanilla Ice Day-Glo Attire 8-Track Tapes DiVX Ishtar
A statewide grand jury has accused the entire City of Harrisburg, in a wide-ranging investigation into multiple different charges ranging from murder to removing tags from mattresses.
This summer, several aides to high level legislators testified before the grand jury that hundreds of thousands of Harrisburgers had committed thousands of crimes. Investigators believe that these residents did, with malice and forethought, intend on committing criminal acts.
Attorney General Tom Corbett, who led the investigation and who is charged with armed robbery, said that while the investigation has taken untold numbers of man hours, the results were "well worth it."
"This just goes to prove that the entire City of Harrisburg, from the Governor to the guy that sleeps on Front Street is guilty of something and should be locked away forever." Mr. Corbett was then led away in chains.
Governor Ed Rendell issued a statement from Dauphin County Prison saying that he was "disappointed" in the City and that he would appreciate a "Ile-fay" in a "Ake-cay".
State Police closed in on the State Legislature as they voted on a bill to legalize table gaming, an obvious trap set up by the Attorney General's office. A warrant has been issued for State Senator Jay Costa who did not make the session. He is believed to be hiding with his brothers Dom, Guy, Jermaine, and Tito.
The Grand Jury is expected to hand down more indictments involving Centre County and the 3100 through 3300 blocks of Winter Street in Philadelphia.
In a move that was almost as unsurprising as the Mon Wharf flooding because of heavy rains, Auditor General Jack Wagner came out today against the proposed Tuition Tax.
"What we're really doing is asking a select group of people to fund a specific entity of government -- in this case, pensions," said Mr. Wagner, whose office audits municipal pension funds. "It makes colleges in the city of Pittsburgh a little bit uncompetitive in comparison to their counterparts."Now, when you're a cynic it's hard to see this move as anything but cynical but...
Mr. Wagner said it's a particularly bad time for a new tax.
"People are hurting. No matter where you go in Pennsylvania, the average person is doing everything they can to reduce expenses. It is not a time to increase taxes."
Well, let me first step back and lay my cards on the table: I agree with the Auditor General that this tax is a bad idea as it, (1) Taxes a population that does not necessarily have representation in the City or the State, (2) taxes a population that is generally low-income, and (3) taxes, of all things, the ability of a person to get an education. Now, as I was once a poor college student, I do remember long nights of nothing to eat but Ramen noodles because I was too broke to afford anything else (including beer), so I can identify with the monetary burden this imposes. I also find it ironic that with one hand the Mayor is touting the Pittsburgh Promise while with the other hand is trying to grab cash from the universities.
Well, maybe that's not ironic -- in any case, back to the cynicism...
I'm going to wager that the Ravenstahls and the Wagners are not good friends (call it a hunch). I'm also going to wager that Jack getting his digs in at the Mayor is going to win him some points with suburban, progressive, and student voters in the race for governor. I'll further wager that a calculated strike at Ravenstahl is a hit also at one of Wagner's opponents and Luke ally, Dan Onorato, CPA. I'd also wager that this kind of issue is a big enough that it can make news ripples across the Commonwealth, much like Tom Corbett's ongoing State Bonus Investigation.
So, I really can't comment on story without sounding cynical, even though I am, but I'm not trying to be.
Monday, December 14, 2009
After a public meeting today, the Board of the Carnegie Library has agreed to extend the due dates on the Beechview, Hazelwood, Lawrenceville and West End branches and will wave all late fees for up to a year.
The library budget previously approved a budget that relied on up to $1.5 million of late fees from patrons that had borrowed the libraries but did not return them on time.
The board said that they had managed to cover the shortfall through a combination of employee attrition, recycling old card catalogs, and not having books that were listed as available on the system, but some how "missing" and non-locatable.
The libraries were stamped out as of December 14, 2009 and are due back December 14, 2010. Failure to return the libraries will result in the loss of library privileges.
When asked for comment, Director Barbara Mistick told reporters to "Shhhhh!"
Our moment of clarity today comes from Harold D. Miller, with regards to the tuition tax:
[O]ver 70% of the people who work at a job located in the City of Pittsburgh don’t live in the City. That’s one of the highest percentages of any major city in the country. In Philadelphia, only 42% of the people who work in the City don’t live there. In cities like Charlotte, Chicago, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, and San Francisco, fewer than 60% of the jobs are filled by suburban commuters.So, what Harold is saying is that a hell of a lot of people that actually *use* city services aren't really being taxed by the City, while a sizable cohort that's already being taxed is about to be taxed more. And of course, the logical conclusion:
The reason so many people who work in the City of Pittsburgh live somewhere else is because Pittsburgh, with only 55.6 square miles of land area, is one of the smallest major cities in the nation. In most regions, places as close as Ben Avon, Edgewood, Fox Chapel, Mt. Lebanon, and Upper St. Clair would be part of the City, not separate municipalities...
In contrast, most college students aren’t commuters, but residents of the City of Pittsburgh. In fact, more than 1 out of every 7 residents of the City of Pittsburgh is in college or graduate school. Many of them own homes and pay property taxes to the City, while others rent apartments and enable their landlords to pay property taxes. Many of them work while attending school to help pay tuition as well as living expenses, and as residents, they pay income taxes to the City on their earnings...
The only way to avoid things like City tuition taxes and County drink taxes is for the Governor and Pennsylvania General Assembly to modernize local government tax structures and create revenue-sharing programs that enable regional public services to be supported by everyone who benefits from them...Of course, that ain't gonna happen any time soon. Any proposal of revenue sharing (read: "tax") or commuter tax (read: "fifth horseman of the apocalypse") will be voted down by suburban legislators who both want to keep their jobs and don't really give a damn about the City anyway -- unless they can find some way to get themselves in power.
So, the logical conclusion is either that (a) the Mayor lacks the necessary cajones to actively and aggressively petition for some sort of intermunicipal revenue sharing plan or consolidation, (b) the Mayor lacks the political influence in Harrisburg to get anything like this passed, or (c) this is a desperate game of chicken with the state legislature in which the college students are innocent bystanders.
If C... well... I'm not sure that the Legislature actually knows that the Mayor is playing chicken. He may need to let them know, as he's in a pimped out Geo Metro and they're in a dumb ol' Hummer.
If you want a weird sort of bureaucratic memento mori, take a look at all the names scratched off an interdepartment mail envelope.
"Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return... or retire, but not with a full pension, that's for sure."
Posted by O at 12:01 PM
Sunday, December 13, 2009
When the East Mall Apartments in East Liberty were finally scheduled for demolition, the location community organization ELDI held a street party in which the much maligned apartments were shot with paint balloons launched from giant slingshots. For years the building that straddled Penn Avenue was looked at, not only as substandard housing, but a physical barrier between Garfield and East Liberty. Still, for some, it was home.
When the Mellon (née Civic) Arena was finally made obsolete, a local architect and preservationist proposed the saving of the structure as a park and a public space. For years the building that straddled what was left of Wylie Avenue was looked at, not only as a failed attempt at urban development, but a physical barrier between Downtown and the Hill District. Still for some, it was (at one point) the site of their homes.
If someone was really clever here, they'd point out the strange parallels between the two stories with regards to neighborhood interests, the interest of the development elite, and the role of architecture reflecting differing urban narratives between the two interests.
If someone was really clever, that is.
City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Building Inspection yesterday issued a condemnation order on the Pittsburgh Steelers, a 76 year old North Side, yesterday after five weeks of complaints by local residents. All employees were ordered to vacate the premises as the team was in danger of imminent collapse.
The Mayor's Office released a statement saying they were prompted to action after hundreds of calls to the City 3-1-1 line Thursday night.
"The Bureau of Building Inspection has found serious defects in the teams foundations, as well as its so-called 'steel curtain.' The offensive line has not been able to provide sufficient protection against Raiders or Dawgs... We are ordering cessation of operational activities within the next four weeks."
North Side residents applauded the City's move. "It's about time," said long time denizen Mark Lataf. "There's been suspicious activity going on over there for the last few weeks. You see a bunch of guys looking like they've been doing work, but nothing's actually getting done. It's a shame that an institution of that caliber has just let their season completely collapse."
This is not the first time that the Steelers have faced such criticism. In 2006, it nearly collapsed after an employee dropped a dangerous item, which was only saved through the quick intervention of a floor manager.
Owners of the Steelers have pledged to comply with the stop work order and will spend the next year on fundamental rebuilding.
In an unrelated story, President Obama has recalled the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland for consultation.
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
And so it came to pass that the Council of the City of Pittsburgh postponed a motion on a proposed tuition tax, and there was must rejoicing.
The 7-2 tally on a motion to postpone the first of two votes needed to enact the 1 percent tuition tax came after emotional, and sometimes personal, debate about how to best spur productive talks that might lead to voluntary donations, a group request to Harrisburg for new taxing powers, or both. The universities issued statements today that any "meaningful conversation is dependent on the removal of the tuition tax from further consideration," in the words of Mary Hines, chair of the Pittsburgh Council on Higher Education board and president of Carlow University.The funny thing, if there is such a thing, about this whole brouhaha is how fixed the conversation has been around the service fees/taxes/blood-from-a-stone from the universities. It's sort of amazing that the debate was fixed right at the beginning: the solution to solving this year's budgetary woes is in the universities. While there are certainly very good reasons to see these institutions as a significant potential revenue contributions, there are not really any other discussions going on outside of the box, to use an insipid phrase.
If council pushes through this tax (they will) and the universities follow through on their threat to sue (they will) and the courts rule in the universities favor (they could, but if nothing else they could draw out this process for years), the mayor and the majority on council is going to have to come up with another brilliant solution to the perpetual budget mess.
That being said, I don't think I trust those people to find the sky if they were lying face up in a field.
Of course, if I had my druthers, I'd use the opportunity to go back to the land/building tax split in order to encourage future revenue growth and economic development, but my druthers are in the shop this week.
Perhaps we could do a City wide bake sale?