Thursday, December 29, 2011

Reassessment Tips & Tricks

So, now that you have your new assessment in hand, there are several things that you can do to help lower you property tax liability for 2012.  No, I'm not talking about appealing your assessment or making sure that you're signed up for all the appropriate tax exemptions and abatements that the City and County have to offer.  I'm talking about real, tangible ways to lower your taxes. For example:

(1) Burn down your house.  Because of the way that the City, County & School District structure their taxes, the value of your property is greatly influenced by the value of any structure that sits there upon.  So, if you have a building worth $80,000 and land worth $20,000, the combined value of the property is $100,000 and your taxes are $2,941.  Now, let's say that somehow you don't have a building anymore.  Well, then your taxes would rest solely on the value of the land ($20,000) and be only $588.20.  The savings of $2,352.80 are well worth the initial investment of a few gallons of gasoline and a packet of matches.  (Note: Most insurance agencies, fire departments, and neighbors generally frown upon arson so do your homework first.)

(2) Vandalism.  If arson doesn't sit well with your insurance company, vandalism is also a good way to help drive down your property value.  While you'll never be able to zero out the value of your structure, allowing a few windows to go broken, a porch to sag, or trash to be strewn upon your front lawn will be more than enough to reduce its value to a negligible level.  If you're lucky, you can get the neighborhood children to help you by throwing rocks at your house or spray painting graffiti on your front door.  Moreover, by decreasing the value of your property, you help to decrease the value of your neighbors' properties, allowing them to decrease their tax liability as well. 

(3) Become a violent crime king pin.  Any realtor will tell you that the three secrets to real estate are location, location, location, but those three secrets also play a part in your property assessments.  Highly valued locations are, unsurprisingly, generators of higher tax revenues; lower valued locations are the reverse.  So, if you want to lower your assessment, try making your surrounding neighborhood, what the Realtor's Association technically calls, a "shit hole."  The easiest way to do this is to become a violent crime king pin, committing all types of violent and property crimes in your area from murder to loitering and everything in between.  This will drive down the livability of your neighborhood thereby lowering the value of your location, which in turn will lower the amount of taxes you must pay. 

(4) Leave your Christmas lights up year round.  This is similar to point #3, only much more drastic and egregious.  No one really wants to live next to "those" neighbors.

(5) Hire disreputable contractors.  According to City code, when you do any improvements to a property you're supposed to let the Bureau of Building Inspection know what you're planning so that they can issue the appropriate permits.  As a side effect, these permits also flag the County Assessor's office so they know that you're making repairs or improvements to your little hovel.  As soon as they see that your contractor is done making improvements to your house, an assessor goes out and *BAM* hits you with a reassessment.  But, let's assume that you use a contractor that's less than reputable... say one that doesn't have -- let's say -- "time" for all that -- let's say -- "paperwork".  Now, what the County assessor's office doesn't know, isn't going to hurt you.  Sure, you may have a botched wiring job from an uncertified electrician or your new toilet may now be leaking on your media room, but the point is that you'll be screwing over the City, County, and School District for literally hundreds of dollars. 

(6) Become a multinational corporation.  Since the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, becoming a multinational conglomerate has become easier and easier.  A clever homeowner will be able to use his new found status and capital to twist some arms down on Grant Street and procure political favors, tax incentives, and other favorable conditions to help you eliminate your tax liability entirely.  Now, as a job creator bringing untold (read: "unsubstantiated") investment to the region, you will be hailed as a captain of industry and a keystone of Pittsburgh's economic success. 

(7) Organize as a tax exempt non-profit.  This is only slightly less evil than point #6, unless your organization's stated goal is to kick puppies or provide health care. 

(8) Become a municipality.  Similar to #6 & #7, when you consider all the cities, boroughs, towns, Authorities, School Districts, and other government related organizations, there are currently something like 84 billion "municipal entities" in Allegheny County alone, each with swaths of tax exempt properties on the rolls.  People aren't going to notice if there are a couple more.  You just need a friend or two at the State Legislature (I'd recommend an Orie) to write some enabling legislation for you and you're all set to form your own little town.  This exact strategy worked very well for Pennsbury Village.   

(9) Convert to "virtual" properties.  I'm not all that familiar with Facespace, Mybook, Friendster or any of those social media, interactive thingamadoodles, but I understand that there are places you can go where you can "farm" "land" and "raise" "crops" and do a bunch of "things" that you would do with ordinary real property.  This virtual world is unreachable by the Allegheny County Real Estate Department and Department of Property Assessment, so, if you have the opportunity, sell everything, convert yourself into tiny pixels and live on a virtual farm... until the man from the virtual bank forecloses on you and you have to move out to California with the iJoads. 

(10) Buy a houseboat/RV.  The tax man can't tax what they can't chase down. 

So, there's some suggestions.  I'm sure the less ambitious among you will just hitch up your pants and pay the extra tax, but then you're probably the stupid ones. 

Assessing Re-assessments

If you're like me, you're 5' 11", named "Steve", live in the city and received a notice of Property Reassessment from Allegheny County as a belated Christmas present this week.  (Frankly, I would have much rather received the three French Hens or the eight maids a-milking, but the County's on a shoe string budget, so I won't begrudge them for that.)  If you're even more like me, you opened up your assessment and noticed two things: (1) that you now the proud owner of the Taj Mahal (or at least close enough for tax assessment purposes) and (2) the County is in absolutely no way responsible for this *COURT MANDATED* reassessment. 

Indeed, if you don't have him on your junk mail list already, you probably also recently got a letter from Hizzoner Luke Ravenstahl informing you that he had nothing to do with the reassessments, so don't blame him when your taxes go up and he is forced by the Courts to roll around naked in the resultant piles of windfall cash.  I'm sure that Luke is just sobbing himself to sleep every night with the thought that his short term budget problems are temporarily relieved. 

Even more not to blame are the folks like Dan Onorato who fought so hard to keep assessments from incrementally ticking up so that one day in the future when he was out of office, the whole damned thing would blow up in everyone elses' faces.  (Note to Highmark: make sure that any golden parachutes handed to Danny Boy are long term pay outs.)  But you know, hey: at least they can say that they never raised property taxes. 

Even even more not to blame are all the people that paid $X for houses who are now shocked and appalled that the County believes that their homes are actually valued at $X like their deed transfer tax said they were.  Where does the county get the nerve to trust that the amount that a buyer is freely willing to pay for a good is actually indicative of its value?  Are we in some sort of Communist dictatorship where market value is determined by some all controlling "invisible hand"? 

The message here is clear: please ignore all economic and political realities and just be outraged. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Gorillas in the Mist

Editor's Note: We don't usually do this, but our friend and sometimes colleague The Passive Aggressive Paperpusher had some things to say and offers up this post. Enjoy:

This Wall Street Journal article from last summer gives a quick overview of the Greater Pittsburgh medical insurance and medical provider markets.

newly combined Highmark-West Penn will face off against... UPMC. The prestigious $8 billion,19-hospital network employs 2,881 doctors and has about 56% of the inpatient market share in Allegheny County...

UPMC, which is the region's biggest provider. Highmark has reserves of $3.71 billion and market share of more than 50% in western Pennsylvania...
On the provider side, there is the UPMC gorilla, the Allegheny General dog, and then numerous independent or small chains of community hospitals (Heritage Valley, Excela Health.)  The payor/insurance side is dominated by Highmark.  UPMC runs an insurance company but its definately a secondary business interest for UPMC as the true money maker is the medical/hospital side of the non-profit.  Aetna, United Healthcare and Cigna also compete in the commercial group medical market.

That is the overview of the two interrelated healthcare markets in Western Pennsylvania.  Each side is dominated by a single large player, and those players each have a sideline business that is on the other gorilla's turf.  The silverbacks have been beating their chests and bleating for the past six months until political pressure forced a one year cooling off period earlier this week.

So why did this happen, and why will the 2013 contract negoatiations be just as nasty.

CASH money homey.

Let me back up and go back to grad school for a moment.  The two markets are highly consolidated, the GINI co-efficients are relatively high.  Now what is a GINI coefficient?
The Gini coefficient (or Gini ratio)  is a summary statistic of the Lorenz curve and a measure of inequality in a population.

The Gini coefficient ranges from a minimum value of zero, when all individuals are equal, to a theoretical maximum of one in an infinite population in which every individual except one has a size of zero.
Gini co-efficients are a quick glance way of measuring market power and consolidation.  The higher the Gini co-effcient, the more concentrated an industrial sector, and the more the largest players in that market sector can be price makers instead of price-takers.  Price-taking behavior is the underlying assumption of Econ 101 market competition as it assumes no one producer or buyer is big enough to move a market.  That is not the case in Western Pennsylvania healthcare.

In an interrelated set of markets like medical provision and medical paying, an interesting exercise is to compare the Gini co-efficients between the sectors.  This produces an outcome grid like the one below:

Currently the Western Pennsylvania health markets are stuck in the top left hand corner --- two gorillas both attempting to apply market pressure against the other to capture as much consumer surplus as possible.  Each gorilla would like to move the situation to a High-Low combination and capture much more consumer surplus.  The Econ 101 solution space is the bottom right hand corner where the consumer (us) is not getting royally shafted.

UPMC's strategic goal is to fracture the insurance market so that it, as the dominant provider, does not have to deal with a countervailing payor organization that can take its 3 million members and go home.  Closing out access to most UPMC hospitals would force Highmark consumers and more importantly, their HR departments to begin to look elsewhere.  The UPMC play was never intended to wipe-out Highmark, just defenestrate it.  The was combined with new contracts signed with national insurance carriers that gave them in-network access to UPMC hospitals.  These steps would minimize market concentration in the insurance/payor market, and thus allow UPMC to maintain a long-term upper hand in all rate negoatiations.

Highmark's strategic goal is to survive as an 800 pound gorilla/dominant player. They have a tougher hand to play, for if PPACA is upheld, in 2014, the state health insurance exchanges will simplify and lower the costs of entry for new insurers to enter the Western PA market.  That will naturally lower the payor Gini co-efficient and favor large, integrated providers who can hold the individually weaker insurers over a barrel.

If Allegheny General was to close, there would be no counter-vailing provider with which Highmark could credibly threaten to redirect their customers to if UPMC got too expensive.  The community hospitals are too small and too general for high end/specialized care to fill that roll.  Highmark will most likely seek to first rebuild AGH, and then begin to cherry pick some of the healthy community hospitals.  This will allow Highmark to create one of the two highly likely vertically integrated medical care silos in Western Pennsylvania over the next decade.

So that is the basic outline of what the fight is about: it is barely about reimbursement rates.

The Passive Agressive Paperpusher is the author of several blogs and a regular contributor to The Angry Drunk Bureaucrat. Join him at 3 PM on Monday December 26 on ADB+ where he will take readers' questions.

UPMC, Highmark Reach Deal

In a non-descriptive bank building in downtown Pittsburgh, the heads of the major health insurance players and their aides hammered out an agreement for the control of drugs and other health care costs in the Western Pennsylvanian Market.

UPMC CEO Jeffrey A. Romoff thanked the Highmark CEO Kenneth R. Melani, M.D., and the heads of the other five familiar players in the negotiations: Governor Tom Corbett from Harrisburg, Rep. Randy Vulakovich from Shaler, and Rep. Dan Frankel from Squirrel Hill.

"How did things ever get so far? I don't know. It was so -- unfortunate -- so unnecessary. Melani lost patients -- and I lost patients..."  said Romoff speaking to the goup.  "If Melani agrees, then I'm willing to let things go on the way they were before."

Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato thanked Romoff for helping to set up this meeting, and praised Romoff for his modesty.  Melani objected, however, that Romoff carried too many judges and politicians in his back pocket and refused to share them.

Romoff countered that he never refused to collaborate on shared interests with Highmark, except for one time, because "I believe that Obamacare is going to destroy us in the years to come."

He continued, "I mean, it's not like chiropractic or acupuncture -- or even mental therapy -- which is something that people want nowadays, and is mandated by HHS.  Even the lobbyists that've helped us in the past with malpractice insurance restrictions and other things are going to refuse to help us when it comes to Obamacare.  And I believe that then and I believe that now."

Onorato suggested that, while the times have changed from one in which Health Insurance Providers could do whatever they want, Romoff needed to share his influence in Harrisburg and Washington and that UPMC could bill Highmark for these services, adding "after all, we are not Communists."

After Corbett suggested that Health Care should be provided to those that could afford it, but not to children or African-Americans, Romoff relented and offered a wish that a peaceful solution could be found to their problems.  Romoff would provide political influence in exchange for the extension of health coverage in Western PA.

Melani insisted, however, that assurances be provided that as UPMC's position become stronger, Romoff would not exact a hostile takeover at a future date.

Romoff objected to the insinuation saying that he had selfish reasons to keep to the deal: his youngest son Michael had been forced out of the health care field by false charges and it was Romoff's desire to bring him back into the fold.  If, however, information were to be leaked to the Department of Health and Human Services or to the FDA, he would blame people in the room.

With that the meeting concluded, but an anonymous insider with UPMC later suggested that Romoff believed that it was Onorato behind this manufactured crisis the whole time.

Happy Holidays (Part 2)

It's also not Christmas without the Norelco Santa...

Happy Holidays (Part 1)

Because it's not Christmas in Pittsburgh until you see this ad...

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Our Crystal Ball...

It's almost that time of year again where we forget about everything that's happened in the prior year and focus squarely on the upcoming on.  So, without any further ado (except this little bit right here), here are the ADB predictions for 2012:


  • The International Financial Crisis will deepen as investors dump U.S. and European Bonds and invest in captioned pictures of cats.

  • In an attempt to confuse creditors, European Union will dissolve and reform as "United Europe."

  • There will be crisis in the Middle East, possibly involving sectarian strife, oil, and/or sand.

  • The UN will forget where they put Guinea-Bissau.

  • New North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will reveal himself to be Margaret Cho in a fat suit.

  • Vladimir Putin will win a third term as Russian President using the slogan: "Vote Putin if You Want to Live."  He will gain 95% of the vote through intense stares alone.

  • Fidel Castro will spend the entire year being "close to death."

  • The Large Hadron Collider will have going to be have had discovered evidence of time travel in 2010 in 2013.

  • YouTube will upload its 1,000,000,000th video: a cat punching a man in the crotch.  The RIAA will immediately demand that it be taken down for copyright infringement of its business practices.

  • The 2012 Mayan Prophecy will finally be revealed via a Little Orphan Annie Secret Society Decoder Pin.

  • Extraterrestrial Aliens will land in Trafalgar Square, grab a bite to eat, ask for directions to Barnard's Star, and be on their way.


  • Mitt Romney will lose the South Carolina primary to a more dynamic and interesting cardboard cut out of Mitt Romney.  The Republican National Convention will eventually coalesce around the candidate that drew the short straw.

  • Michelle Bachmann will drop out of the GOP Primary race and instead run as an Independent for President of the Moon People.

  • Congressional approval ratings will scrape the bottom of the barrel and then start to dig their way through the barrel, eventually finding themselves in the center of the Earth's molten core.

  • The Presidential election will be decided by two states: Wisconsin and Denial.

  • The US Economy will go up or down, which will be blamed on the President.

  • The Occupy Wall Street movement will be co-opted by TLC as a new reality show. Ironically, no one will learn anything from the experience.

  • Britney Spears will be married for the third time as part of a cross promotion with her new album and then for a fourth time to distract from poor album sales. .

  • Americans will still inexplicably care about the Kardashians.

  • Community will return to rave reviews, but no one will know when NBC has placed it on the schedule.

  • Instead of re-remastering Star Wars, George Lucas will instead resort to outright blackmailing of fans.


  • Governor Tom Corbett will accidentally drink 6 oz. of fracking fluid and mutate into something closely resembling a human being.

  • The State Legislature will do absolutely nothing of consequence, but make it seem like they have.

  • New PA Congressional Redistricting maps will result in the unintended enfranchisement of most of Delaware.

  • The City of Harrisburg will solve its financial quandary by turning the entire city into a Thunderdome.

  • The PA Turnpike will be blocked between the Bedford and Somerset Exits from 8:15 PM to 11:20 PM because of an overturned tractor trailer.

  • State Liquor Stores will be sold to Highmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield.  The deal will be praised for its "synergy".

  • Transportation will be funded entirely through "Groupon Deals".

  • Wilkes-Barre will be something else, let me tell you.  You'll wish you had been there to see it.

    City & Region

  • Luke Ravenstahl will be embroiled in a scandal involving developer kickbacks, road paving, and a parrot named "Morty" who just won't shut up about Tim Tebow.

  • With the departure of Doug Shields, City Council meetings will be over in 30 minutes.

  • Rick Fitzgerald will lose his temper and punch a hole in the City-County Building.

  • Fox Chapel residents will whistle and walk away non-nonchalantly.

  • USAirways will begin $5 direct flights to Paris (with $3,000 disembarking fees).

  • Someone will hit on a hard 18 at the Rivers Casino.

  • People will be angry about their property reassessments.

  • The Borough of Mount Oliver will continue to exist for some inexplicable reason.

  • Pittsburgh residents will queue up for the new Batman movie and spend the whole time shouting "Oooh!  I know where that is!" at the screen.

  • The North Shore Connector will be opened to thunderous "meh".

  • The Pirates will enjoy a brief stint at the top of the National League and then play their second game.

  • Sidney Crosby's concussion prognosis will be downgraded from "Serious Head Trauma" to "College Republican".

  • Tuesday, December 20, 2011

    Arrested Development

    Anybody else remember the following picture?

    Don't feel bad if you don't, but for maybe a week in 2002 this was kind of a big deal and the apex of the Fith/Forbes development planning.  The Murphy Administration had big designs for Downtown Pittsburgh: high end retail & living accommodations anchored by big named tenants.  It was going to be a "transformative" event, to use the common parlance being bandied about at 414 Grant Street today.  Murphy lasted a few more years, but the Fith/Forbes Development sputtered and died because of community and political pressures.

    But, if you were to ask the Mayor's Office today, they would tell you that what they're doing Downtown is absolutely, totally, utterly and completely different from what was proposed under previous mayoral administrations.  So, of course, the above image is nothing like the following image:

    Absolutely, totally different:

    And may God help you if you even try to suggest otherwise.

    Friday, December 16, 2011

    A Bureaucrat's Aside Re: Editing, Proofreading, etc.

    As both of you who read this blog may have noticed, the number of spelling and grammatical errors have increased considerably since I came back from my extended hiatus.  This is not (generally) because of my 2 bottles of wine/day habit, as one may have assumed.  Instead, I have recently made the great leap in computing technology from a TRS-80 to an iPad 2.

    The upgrade was mandated by my Cats, who were tired of trying to wedge themselves between my lap and the keyboard and decided that, rather than argue with me over the issue, they would work together to push the 50 pound behemoth off of my desk, causing it to shatter into a hundred thousand little bits.  Also, I did want to play a version of Angry Birds that didn't involve me chucking the entire computer at a flock of birds.

    So, I don't begrudge the change, but the iPad 2 is much more difficult to compose long strings of prose than the old computer.  For some reason, the iPad 2 hates the letters "t", "h", and "e", so "this" becomes "his" or "is", "the" becomes "he" or "e", and "rhythm" becomes "rym".  This I attribute to my disturbing monkey-like, sausage fingers and decades of learning how to touch type (at the expense of not learning how to play the piano), which has made me unable to type with fluidity on what is basically an expensive pane of glass.  Sure, it's light and convenient, but I look like an awkward hipster Tyrannosaurus now.

    Anywho, as noted at the bottom of the page here spelling and grammatical errors are "par for the course", so if I see them, I'll fix them, but if I don't... well, just ignore the mistak.

    Thursday, December 15, 2011

    From the ADB Department of Projectile Vomitting

    Hang onto your cotton candy, hot dogs, pizza, funnel cakes, and deep fried oreos, kids:

    Thrill-seekers will have one more thing to scream about at Kennywood Park in 2012. The new Black Widow will swing a circle of 40 riders back and forth like a pendulum while at the same time rotating them counter clockwise. At its peak, riders will hang 146 feet off the ground -- upside down -- while moving at 68 mph.
    As my Grandmother used to say "OH SWEET JESUS I'M GOING TO BE SICK! HELP ME LORD OH HELP ME LORD!!"

    I can only assume that this thing was design to get the maximum puke coverage over the park; whereas he Pittfall only had a hork-splash area of about 10 feet around the tower, his thing will send huey from Old Kennywood all the way to the Racer.

    Seriously, I think I'm about to throw up just thinking about it.

    Paging Ralph to the porcelain phone. Ralph to the White porcelain phone.

    State GOP Unveils "Post-Modern" Redistricting Map

    Members of the State GOP today unveiled a new restrictricting map, which seeks to redefine the concept of "Map-ness".

    Flanked by prominent members of the post-modern philosophic elite, State Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, R-Bucks called the new map "a bold deconstruction of the hermeneutical boundaries of visual language".

    "When most people think of maps, they impart some sort of arbitrary meaning to the representations. Our goal here is to remove those artificial structures that we as a society impose upon ourselves in the hopes that we can truly understand what it means to be representatively governed".

    The "map" itself is not a map in the tradition sense of the word, but rather large ideas, pictures, and strange symbols plastered to the side of a cow with a helmet on. The words "4th District" and "Chocolate Pudding Slide" figure prominently into the designs, which draw influences from such disparate sources as Ludwig Wiggenstein and Jacques Derrida and also eliminates Rep. Jason Altmire's district entirely.

    The work was immediately denounced By State Democrats.

    State Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware County, blasted the shape of the 7th District, calling it "an absolute, unmitigated disgrace. I am shocked and speechless. It disregards continuity. I am shocked at what people who are drunk with power would do when given authority."

    "Plus, it is totally phallic in shape, a symbol of the oppressing patriarchy of what can only be described as the cold, womb-less environment of our state government."

    Classical Philosophy trained Government Officials have also denounced the map, preferring instead to leave the final decision on the shapes up to a panel of philosopher kings.

    Monday, December 12, 2011

    As Certain as Death and Tax Portfolio Sales

    From the P-G:

    The county is in line to collect $6 million by the end of this year in return for a portfolio of tax liens worth $7.2 million. The liens are claims against almost 5,000 properties for unpaid real estate taxes for the years 2008 through 2011...

    The $7.2 million in tax liens cover 4,977 properties throughout the county.

    Those parcels are among more than 18,000 properties across the county on which $14.6 million is owed in back taxes and penalties for the three years. The county had sought bids for the sale of all those liens, but the offer to buy them came in at just $7.5 million. That deal would have gained the county about 52 cents for each dollar owed.

    The county has used tax-lien sales to raise revenue in the past. A 2007 tax-receivable sale yielded $13.4 million from the sale of liens valued at $18 million. That represented an upfront payment of 75 cents for each dollar owed the county.

    Ms Griser estimated that, based on past experience, it will take the buyer of the liens about four years to get back the $6 million initial investment.
    If I'm reading this right and doing the math correctly, we're looking at round about $1.5 billion worth of property that's tax delinquent (assuming that any multiple liens sort of even out). Even if it was a third of the value, that's still a lot of property to be tied up with a third party collections gency.

    So tax portfolio sales seems to be one of those great get rich quick schemes municipal entities try to use to balance their books riiiiight before a crisis. Of course if we learned anything from the City's Capital Assests debacle*, we remember that for a short term influx of cash, the City's hands were tied when it tried to assemble large swaths of property for redevelopment. Capital Assets literally stuffed all of these bad liens into a black hole (for you clever dog Latin fans) and held up development progress for years. As a colleague of mine once said, "It was the dumbest thing the City could have done."

    Flash forward to today: even though the County taxes are a fairly minor sum when compared to other taxing bodies, in an economic downturn it seems odd that the portfolio purchaser would seem to value it so highly. Without knowing what types of property specifically were in that pool of liens, they paid $.86 on the dollar... which I would assume means that they expect to collect at least 87% of the liens. I don't know if I can say for sure if this is unreasonable or not given the national economic trends, but I get the feeling that they may be waiting a loooong time for their purchase to pay off. In the meanwhile, depending on how well their collections go, this new delinquent tax lien holder could wait it out, slowing community redevelopment until others with deep pockets come and pay them their full asking price.

    If not, they can always package it as a security and create a "safe" vehicle for investors. You know... again.

    *We haven't.**
    **That post is almost five years to the day, by the way.

    Thursday, December 08, 2011

    Council pushes through various bills before deadline

    As the second best source for local news reported, Pittsburgh City Council, mistaking itself for a group of drunken college students, today started it's end of the semester rush to finish all of it's work, in the hope of passing Introduction to LED Billboards, Public Expenditure Analysis, Environmental Sciences, and Zen and the Art of Rhetoric. In all, I think everyone is just shooting for a C+ Average.

    Anyway, amidst the flurry of bills that were introduced there were a few that the P-G missed:

    * A bill to require the Historic Review commission to mark the location of all the former Isaly's as a Pittsburgh way finder system.
    * A bill to not go for it on 4th and Goal.
    * A bill increase the minimum drink limit at Council to 4.
    * A bill amending the capital budget by diverting $6,000 from Mainstreet improvement on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill to Mainstreet improvement on East Ohio Street in East Allegheny.
    * A bill re-amending the capital budget by re-diverting $6,000 from Mainstreet improvement on East Ohio Street in East Allegheny to Mainstreet improvement on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill.
    * A bill re-re-amending the capital budget by re-re-diverting $6,000 from Mainstreet improvement on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill to Mainstreet improvement on East Ohio Street in East Allegheny.
    * A bill re-re-re-amending the capital budget by re-re-re-diverting $6,000 from Mainstreet improvement on East Ohio Street in East Allegheny to Mainstreet improvement on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill.
    * A bill amending the capital budget by diverting $6,000 from Mainstreet improvement on Broadway Avenue in Beechview, $3,000 to Mainstreet improvement on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill and $3,000 to Mainstreet improvement on East Ohio Street in East Allegheny.
    * A bill amending the City Charter making the Councilperson representing Beechview give the Councilpersons representing Squirrel Hill and East Allegheny a foot rub.
    * A bill telling the Councilpersons representing Squirrel Hill and East Allegheny to shut the hell up.
    * A bill to why don't you make me shut the hell up.
    * A bill to oh, on it's on now.
    * A bill to throw a right, a left hook, a right jab, to pull hair, to kick in the crotch, and to bash the Councilperson's head off the table.
    * A bill to pick up the Councilman's teeth off of the Council floor.
    * A bill to call the ambulance...

    * A bill to make December 14 Chocolate Pudding Day in the City of Pittsburgh.
    * A bill to end this list of bills.
    In all, it was one of the more exciting meetings.

    Wednesday, December 07, 2011

    Yarone Zober in Posession of Magic Monkey Paw

    According to sources on the 5th Floor of the City Council Building, Mayoral Chief of Staff Yarone Zober refuses to give up an enchanted monkey paw that grants its owner five wishes.

    Reports are sketchy as to where the monkey paw originally came from.  Mr. Zober initially claimed that it was given to him as a birthday present by a cousin in 2006, although that claim was later proven to be false.  He later claimed that he acquired the monkey pawn in a, since disappeared, Chinese market in the Strip District from an old man with a long beard.

    In any case, the monkey paw apparently grants its bearer five wishes.  Three are known to have been granted: (1) the July 2006 purge of B.J. Leber, Susan Malie, and Paul Leger; (2) his ascension to the position of Chief-of-Staff; and (3) the elimination of former URA Executive Director Pat Ford.  Sources indicate that he may have also used a wish to assure a Ravenstahl victory in the last Mayoral campaign, although that has not yet been confirmed.

    The Mayor's Office staff has been pressing Mr. Zober to use his final remaining wish wisely, perhaps to provide for additional funding to the city, to resolve outstanding Act 47 issues, or even create a giant permanent chocolate pudding slide in Beechview.

    Mr. Zober, however, appears to have refused to use his final wish yet. Another source on Grant Street indicates that Mr. Zober intends to use the monkey paw to create more wish bearing monkey paws.

    Local Tarot reader and expert on the occult known only as "Madame Kovarian" offered a dire warning to the City of Pittsburgh: "It is a thing of great evil and must be destroyed at all costs. And the monkey paw too".

    More as this story develops.

    Tuesday, December 06, 2011

    A Bureaucrat's Aside Re: Weather

    I'm beginning to wonder if the 2012 Capital Budget has any money in it for plowing away the large amount of gray that seems to be accumulating this winter season.

    Forty Days and Forty Nights of gray was God's original plan to destroy the Earth, but he couldn't get Noah out of bed to build a giant multi-hued candy and puppy factory... So he went with a flood and an ark instead. Sure, the flood was a physical catastrophe, but the gray would have been emotionally devastating.

    The moral of the story is that, sure you can drive a car through Beechview when it's graying outside without sliding down the hills smashing into every car on your way, but you kinda wish you would just to add some excitement.

    Monday, December 05, 2011

    Is the Answer to this Question Yes? Some say no.

    A recent CNN-Time Magazine poll has revealed that a slim majority of Americans (51%) believe that the answer to this question is Yes, down from 60% only 5 years ago.   Fully 47% of those surveyed believed that the answer to the question was No, with the remainder answering "Jar of Walnuts".  By comparison, nearly 90% of Europeans, when asked the same question, responded with "Yes", a position that has been steadily growing over the last 10 years.

    The debate between Yes and No has spilled out into classrooms, legislatures, and sports arenas, fueled by increasing fanaticism from the No supporters.

    Defenders of the Yes position say that there is ample evidence on their side, and that those who are advocating No are few and far between.

    "Look, despite the massive amounts of scientific evidence, case law, and religious dogma in our favour, there is still a small vocal minority out there that cling to this contrarian position," says Professor Peter Ian Staker of the University of Sandford in Gloucestershire, UK.  "They do not offer a a sound intellectual or moral argument for 'No', but they feel that in their heart-of-hearts they must be right.  One can only assume, therefore, that they are massively ignorant or are being actively mislead by others."

    Indeed, a review of all 5,000 peer reviewed scientific articles on the Yes versus No question, only three defended the No position and even then merely tangentially.  However, in a review of major popular media outlets during the same period, nearly half of the reports were either proponents of No or espoused a neutral value to either positions.

    "There is no neutrality here," says Professor Staker, "There is a clearly defined, unambiguous, settled argument here with the exception of people that are pants-on-head crazy, ignorant, or crazy-ignorant."

    Despite this sentiment, the Anti-Yes contingent continues to generate millions of dollars per year in grant funding from highly placed philanthropists and industry trade groups, such as George Squaash Faices (heir to the Squaash fortune) and the Americans Against Anti-Negativity (a front for the National No Foundation, which is funded by No, Inc., No, Never & Not At All LLP, and Not on Your Life Sonny-Boy Enterprises, amongst others).  These individuals and organizations have used friendly media outlets, internet message boards, researchers, and apathy towards the debate to convince the general public that the No Position is seriously being debated outside of their echo chamber.  In turn, this backlash at Yes has enabled many Pro-No supporters to be elected to the highest levels of state & local government.

    Joseph Duddley, a plumber's assistant and author of the blog "Say Yes to No," says that Americans are sick and tired of being told that Yes is the answer.

    "My grandfather didn't come to this country to be told by some pointed headed academic that the answer is Yes.  He was his own man and he raised my family to believe in the values of hard work, apple pie, and No.  There's all this evidence that No is the answer, but they just refuse to listen."

    Professor Staker disagrees.

    "False equivalency in the media between the Yes and No positions is a major source of confusion for the public.  People assume that the media is an unbiased observer, reporting facts, but the truth is that in the rush to objectivity the media does a disservice by portraying balance when there clearly is none."

    While both sides have their points, at the moment the question seems to be remaining unsettled for now.

    Sunday, December 04, 2011

    Ravenstahl Tells Council to "Trust Him" on Secret Bill

    Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is urging members of Council to vote for a bill the details of which are not yet know.

    The City Clerk received a large brown envelope on Friday of morning, the contents of which were not shared to anyone, including the Clerk herself, Linda Johnson-Wasler. Sources in the Mayor's Office have, however, confirmed that it is a bill to be set before council for approval. Only after approval will the nature of the bill be revealed.

    "It's a good bill," said the Mayor in an interview to KDKA-TV, "Just because Council hasn't actually had the opportunity to read it or know what it is doesn't mean they shouldn't vote for it. They need to trust me that I know what I'm doing as Mayor.".

    The Mayor's opponents on Council, however, do not share the same optimism.

    "For all we know, the Mayor could be offering a bill to sell the City for a handful of magic beans and a small yak," said Councilman Bill Peduto in a statement. "As responsible members of City Council, I think we need to know at least the title of the bill before we vote for it."

    Rev. Ricky Burgess, a staunch ally of the Mayor on City Council, defended the Mayor's approach.

    "I don't know what's in the bill, specifically, but I'm guessing that it's some sort of pony. We really should trust he mayor on this and do what he says. I think it'll be good."

    Insiders in the City Clerks office managed to peak at three words of the bill, which they believe to be "Soffer" and "Waffle Iron", but could not explain what the bill old possibly be about.

    This would not be the first bill that Mayor Ravenstahl has tried to slp past Council. Only last year he tried to sneak through a "Hookers and Blow allocation to Mayors with names ending in '-Avenstahl'" stapled to the back of a CDBG funding bill.". That bill was opposed by all except Rev. Burgess.

    More details as this story develops.