Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Midnight Train to Nowhere

Hey there boy! Is this the Pennsylvanian station?

No, sadly:

The White House today released the list of high-speed rail projects that will share $8 billion in stimulus funds, and, as expected, Western Pennsylvania was largely shut out.

Other than funding for a study of high-speed trains between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, most of the funds for the Northeast involved improving existing services between major cities. A total of $27 million will be dedicated to improving the Philadelphia-to-Harrisburg rail line, with an expected $750,000 of that for a study on extending that service to Pittsburgh eventually.
Pity that.

Now, this actually makes sense in the grand scheme of things: the "Keystone" plan is to link Pittsburgh with Harrisburg and Pittsburgh with Washington, which, if you've ever taken the Turnpike eastwards, you'll know are very difficult corridors from a civil engineering standpoint. Reinforcing the Harrisburg/Philadelphia corridor does make sense if the administration needs a proof of concept project, so I won't begrudge them for it.

Now, stepping back for a moment: it's only a one hour, forty-five minute drive from the Harrisburg Amtrak station to the Philadelphia Amtrak station. Assuming that most of that is highway (and uncluttered with traffic) and you'd be doing the speed limit, if the "High-Speed" trains are doing 100 mph, you'd see a one way trip taking about 45 minutes or so. (I have in on authority that it currently takes about an hour at the less than "high speed" speeds.) I'm not sure what the threshold Philadelphians have for their maximum commute times, but that's not outside the realm of possibility, I suppose, so Harrisburg could be reasonably considered a commuter suburb for Philadelphia. The MARC system, by contrast, extends from Washington D.C. to Martinsburg, WV, which is an hour and thirty-six minutes drive time; there's a station out there, so obviously Martinsburg, WV is also being used as a commuter suburb. If the same kinds of metrics were used in Pittsburgh (admittedly a smaller market), we'd be seeing long commuter trains from Cleveland, Erie, Greensburg, Johnstown, etc.

What's missing, however, is a good mid-to-local rail service: service to the Airport, to Etna, to Monroeville and service to Shadyside, Hazelwood, Manchester, Sheraden, and Banksville. These bit and pieces are actually far more important to the economic health of the region than the long commute line. You see, while the Port Authority has invested heavily in bus service, there is something different about local rail service; bus routes can change tomorrow; rail is permanent. The development of local rail corridors for medium range trips and light rail for intercity trips provides a focus for future development plans. A line from the airport to downtown to oakland will establish a permanent transit corridor and pretty much force developers to concentrate development close to stations, if they want to benefit from them.

In essence, the transportation planning bodies are establishing future, long term investment areas. Now I wonder if the folks at PAT consider this when they are making their investment choices or if they are getting much input from local economic development agencies. It would seem that there's no reason to do any of that, as no one is making them do it and it is not within their core competency.

But one day, hopefully everyone will start working together and I'll be able to jump on the T at 10 AM, make it to the noon meeting in DC, and be back in time for tea in Oakland.

A girl can dream, can't she?

And Now...

H/t to Bram, who played the Gremlin once or twice to the local Looney Tunes establishment.

I give him three months until he returns.

Breaking(ish) News: Lemieux, Penguins co-owner offer to buy Pirates

From the P-G:

Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle, co-owners of the Penguins, recently made an unsolicited offer to buy the Pirates in a face-to-face meeting with that team's owner, Bob Nutting, but the offer did not receive a response.

Sources on the Penguins' side last night described the offer made by Mr. Lemieux and Mr. Burkle as "very serious," without divulging a dollar figure, and said they remain interested in following up...

The reasons Mr. Lemieux and Mr. Burkle would want to buy the Pirates will not be clear until they speak to that, though that is not expected soon, if at all.

One possibility, according to a source, is that a joint ownership of the Penguins and Pirates could create a business "synergy" that would allow one to pick up the other in tough times, and vice versa. It would help, the source added, that the NHL and MLB seasons have little overlap and that the teams currently have the same local television rights-holder in FSN Pittsburgh...
I have my own theory: the Penguins are trying to provide job opportunities for Hill District residents as party of the agreed upon CBA. Hiring someone from the Hill to play third base would probably net you at least equal quality as what they have now.

If that were true and if I were a Hill Resident, I'd be insulted. I mean, the CBA calls for "quality" jobs, not 3rd rate, minor league jobs.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

State of the Union Pre-Game

Back in heady days of my youth, I was involved in a group that regularly met to play cards, specifically a trick-taking card game similar to Bridge. This was a weekly occurrence, and several of us got quite good at the game.

I was, and I suppose still am, a fairly cautious card play: I refuse to bid unless I know that I can win my hand on my own, as I have no faith that my partner will be able to help me. This can be frustrating to my partners after the hand is played, as it is sometimes quite obvious that between the two of us, we could have won the hand had we tried.

There was one among our group, let's call him "Steve," who was, by far, the most ingenious player I've ever met. It was not rare for him to make an absurdly high bid, and still manage to eek out a victory, collecting all of his points. Steve would later go through a post-game analysis saying "well, I had this and this, and I assumed that you had this, and that the other guys had those, and I took a chance that this other card was in the discard pile..." and on-and-on until he proved to us that, no matter the quality of cards we had in our hands, he was going to win.

Steve was really, really good at cards.

Which brings me to the State of the Union. The way that I see it, Obama has a decent hand to play. It may not be a winning hand right now, but with some help from his partner, a little luck, and by being able to control the pace of the game, he could win big, like Steve. Unfortunately, he seems to view the hand that he has been dealt like me; sure I have a fist full of high cards in the trump suit, but because I can't guarantee a win I'm going to pass. In our little game, that means that the opposition gets more and more opportunities to score points as the hands drag on.

So what do I want to see from the State of the Union tonight? I want to see a President that knows that he can run the table, even if he's short one or two trump cards.

...And then starts to play that way.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Bureaucrat's Aside Re: Baseball

Now that the Pirates have announced a new statue of Bill Mazeroski, does anyone have any ideas on how long it's going to take them to trade him for three minor league statues to be named later?

On the other hand, five more statues and they may be able to field an all-bronze team... which may actually break .500.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Night of the Living Wages

I had been kicking around another post about the prevailing wage brouhaha and just hadn't gotten around to it, so it seems Bram has beaten me to the punch and I suppose that gives me a good enough segue into beating a dead horse:

The debate over a prevailing wage ordinance was retread by the public in City Council today -- but the specific cons popular with the Trib and with some anonymous commenters here seemed conspicuously absent.
Dewitt Peart, president of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, told council he was "not stating an opposition to what you want to do, it's just how you went about it.

"We feel that the private sector was really not engaged to the extent that it should have to make sure that this legislation is the best that it could be," he said, asking for time to "review the legislation, so we don't have negative impact." (P-G, Rich Lord)
This bill was formally introduced two months ago, and had been in public circulation for far longer than that. You haven't reviewed it yet? Don't have anything concrete yet to offer? Just say you don't want folks in Pittsburgh who receive taxpayer subsidies to be made to pay their service workers at least the industry standard. That's an honest argument.
Well, to this point the answer is: those that are pushing this bill (*cough* SEIU *cough*) don't actually have a lot of answers about what this bill is going to do to development in the City. Sure, in a place like LA or NYC, you can implement this kind of legislation, but in a weak market City... well, who knows? The results of the legislation may be no jobs versus shitty jobs, and that doesn't help anything. Not to mention that no one out there can actually tell you what the "prevailing wage" of some of these job classifications are for the City. For all we know, this is a lot of huff and puff about nothing, but we don't know that yet.

And the second point: well, Patrick Dowd did offer a number of (never entertained) amendments to clarify the bill, which should be a modicum of evidence that the bill, as written, may have some *ahem* issues.

Moving on:
One councilor pointed out during last week's fracas that activating Living Wage, as it is now written, will require even small non-profits who do business with the city such as Just Harvest -- not to mention the city's seasonal youth life guards -- to greatly increase everybody's compensation to $24,000 per anum. It sounds like the old bill needs some deeper, concentrated work. Other members hold the view that scheduling a tentative vote not until Feb. 17 is a crime on par with the Holocaust.
And Bram sort of hits on the nub of the Living Wage bill: This is a bill designed to fail. See, on one hand you have a bill demanding that developers pay a prevailing wage; on the other, we have a bill demanding that the City pay a living wage. The arguments against the City paying the living wage are EXACTLY THE SAME as the arguments that the developers are using against the prevailing wage. The Living Wage bill is not meant to pass; it's supposed to a rebuke against anyone or any group who is saying "do as I say, not as I do."

But, hey: maybe maybe the Living Wage bill will in fact pass, only to have the State overseers striking it down later. Who knows?

Again, it's not that the opposition is actually opposed to anyone getting a Living or a Prevailing wage. It's just that no one has actually sat down and done the number crunching on the impact of these bills on jobs in the City. The only voice that's being heard right now is from SEIU (who, let's be fair, stands to gain immensely from its passage, not only here, but across the country) with no one really putting up data from the opposing side. One would think that between nine councilpersons we'd be able to assemble a half an economist, who could parse through all of the rhetoric.

Or is that asking too much of council?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

An Important Announcement from the ADB

Dear Readers,

With today's ruling by the Supreme Court, it has now become financially feasible for me to seriously run for public office.

As you are probably well aware, my aspirations to become a powerful, feared member of the oligarchic elite have been stymied, partially because of those pictures of me and John Edwards' mistress, but mostly because the salary for an unsuccessful candidate is so poor. Indeed, as I have a wife and three kids to feed, I felt that I could not take the risk of running for higher office and lose, leaving my family destitute. We do have need for bare necessities (food, water, cable modem), and while the children would probably be tasty if they were slow cooked, I felt that the tradeoff was one I could not make.

Today's Supreme Court ruling, however, changes the game... and it's now an opportunity for you, the freedom of speech enabled citizenry, unions, or corporations to take advantage of me.

First, let me say that I have principles: valuable, deeply held principles that I will gladly abandon for cold, hard cash. You want an amendment to stop flag burning: for $5,000, I can be your candidate. You want to put electronic monitoring devices on liberals: for $5,000,000 I can be your candidate. You want to invade countries populated by brown people and forcibly convert them to Pepsi-Colaism... brother, for a mere $50,000,000 I can make that happen.

Of course, my real platform if totally up to you.

For a nice chunk of change I can be against gay marriage, but for a little bit more, I can be for it.
Don't like stop signs? For a generous contribution, neither do I?
Think that we need to drill baby seals in ANWR for their oil? A cool million from Exxon-Mobil would make me agree.
Want to waterboard people in contravention of the Geneva Convention? For a campaign plane, I'll hold the bucket for you.
I can be a Democrat, a Republican, a Libertarian, a Tea-Bagger, a Trash Bagger, A Stinking Badger, or anything else your greedy little hands want me to be.

This is a great opportunity for democracy. Think of me as your, squishy, pliable, political Gumby whore, willing to do anything and contort anyway that you want me too.

But wait, there's MORE!

If you are one of the first 300 contributors, I will give you the opportunity to actually vote FOR ME. I mean, literally, if you decide that I'm going to be a congressman, I will let you push the little red button on the floor of the House for me. You want to have my vote on Global Warming? Bam! You literally have my vote on global warming.

Hurry though, as there are only so many positions for sale. Contribute now before someone else buys up your democracy!

The Angry Drunk Bureaucrat

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Bureaucrat's Aside Re: Massachusetts

If there's a silver lining out there for what happened tonight in MA, it is this:

In 1994, after the "Republican Revolution," President Bill Clinton, saddled with a floundering attempt to reform health care, finally got his act together and started running a permanent campaign. While what resulted was a policy that pleased neither the right nor the left, the sudden shock after years of Democratic complacency added a new vigor to an otherwise moribund party.

What the Democrats can learn tonight is that the Race is never going to be over, no one can afford to sit on their laurels, good candidates must be identified early and effectively run, the Party must always be on the offensive, and that the base needs to be permanently energized.

Oh, and it's good that they have the chance to learn all this now and not 10 months from now.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pat Robinson Blames The Devil, Haitians, The French...

Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Lady Gaga, Jay Leno, NBC Executives, Hansen's Disease, Roy Kohn, Church's Chicken, America's Got Talent, the Late Jerry Falwell, Pennsylvanian wines, Avatar, World of Warcraft, haircuts, tax returns, telecommuting, H&R Block, Toyotas, Airbags, needless entertainment awards, Angie Harmon, cufflinks, testes, babies, Ron Howard, peacocks, burritos, Susan B. Anthony, Virginia, Airport Bathrooms, James Spader, youth, hybernation chambers, ice cold diarrhea from drinking too much Jamba Juice, the pubic bone, voicemail, passwords, The Da Vinci Code,, search engines, desktop images, wig extensions, Irish Catholics, vacations, Germans, Israeli Commandos, National Airport Codes, glitter, the Port Authority of New York, sweaters, irony, the Sun, Gays, Liberals, Muslims, Secular Humanists, Vegetarians, Public Broadcasting, Democrats, Bloggers, New Englanders, Pacifists, Zionists, Buildabergers, UFOs, The Teletubbies, MTV, VH1, Family Guy, Rap Music, Heavy Metal, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Liberation Theology, Fred Phelps, Mister Rogers, Howdy Doody, Alberto Gonzales, Florida, Ohio, John Glenn, Hollywood Elite, George Clooney, South Park, North Park, Linkin Park, Log Cabin Republicans, Bravo, BBC 2-4, NPR, Clear Channel, the English Channel, English Muffins, Little Miss Muffit, Little Miss Sunshine, Stephen Colbert, New York's 30th Congressional District, Nuclear Disarmament, the European Union, the Warsaw Pact, Europe (the Band), Toto (the Dog), "Must See TV", Helen Hunt, Euclidian Geometry, Polar Notation, Polar Bears, Panda Thumbs, Steven Jay Gould, The Simpsons, Wallis the Duchess of Windsor, Edward VII, Tim Burton, Nippled Bat Suits, Barry Bonds, Savings Bonds, ARM Mortgages, the 2nd Amendment, the 1st Amendment, Funkadelic (but not Parliament), Roger Clinton, Billy Beer, Rabbits, Miter Saws, Playground Equipment, the London Underground, the Clash, New Coke, Telephone Directories, the Trilateral Commission, Equalateral Triangles, Larry Flint, Flintheart Glomgold, Arnold Judas Rimmer, Ronald Reagan Jr., rendered Hog Fat, Ding-dongs, Ho-Hos, Twinkies, recycled blog posts, the SEC, Satan (again), and the French (very much again) for the Haitian Earthquake.

A Bureaucrat's Aside Re: False Fire Alarms

Would whoever keeps burning toast in the Finance Department, has the malfunctioning space heater in CIS, or is smoking on the 5th Floor, please stop it.

You're lucky it was warm out today.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Police, City Agree on Anal Retentive Contract

The ADB Department of Misread Headlines is reporting today that the City of Pittsburgh and the Fraternal Order of Police have reached an anal retentive contract.

Details of the pact are not immediately available, but speculation is that the new contract would involve new methods of paperwork, hourly hand washing, alphabetically organizing crime scenes, and new, super pressed uniforms. One could surmise that the popular fascination with such shows as C.S.I., C.S.I.: Miami, C.S.I.: NY, N.C.I.S., and Monk has forced the police to pay more attention to details, lest their work be called into question in court.

Annual raises, it is reported, will be calculated out to five significant digits and any extra money left over from rounding will be left to accrue interest at 1.298%.

It is now up to both the Intergovermental Cooperation Authority and the Act 47 Overseers, both masters of minutiae, to approve the anal retentive plan, dot all the T's and cross all the I's.

More details tomorrow in ADB+.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Last Call City Employees

Between my daily beerpong match and my four martini lunch, I saw this:

Firefighter drug testing will be in place by month's end, and the city of Pittsburgh is exploring the possibility of a new alcohol policy, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said today.

The mayor's comments came days after the Saturday night arrest of firefighter Timothy P. Coyne, who is accused of drunkenness and assault in a South Side Flats incident. He is suspended pending a trial board process and his preliminary hearing is set for tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. at Municipal Court.

Mr. Ravenstahl said the city and union are already deep in negotiations over a drug testing policy and now must look for "other solutions to, perhaps, the alcohol issue..."
OK, makes sense: you don't want firefighters going into burning building while flammable. But, wait, there's more:
Controller Michael Lamb said drug and alcohol policies should "be extended beyond just the Fire Bureau to other areas of city government.

"You've got guys driving garbage trucks and dump trucks and water vehicles," he noted, so there should be "some underlying level of trust that these people are not under the influence of alcohol or drugs."
Again, makes sense: you don't want your trash collectors trashed and you don't want your water tank drivers tanked. I get that.

However, if you're going to do this, you might as well go all the way. For example, you might want to eliminate the 2 drink minimum for introducing legislation at City Council. Or, you should probably curtail the "pay your tax/do a shot" scheme in the Finance department. Or, one should stop the Water & Sewer Authority from "testing" the sewer systems with "processed light beer". You can't really do this half-assed, right? You don't want people who are making decisions to be drunk, right?*

Of course, if the City had such policies in place several years ago, a certain member of City government probably wouldn't have gotten into a fracas with the police at a Toby Keith concert.

I'm not worried though: there's enough mind altering chemicals in the floors, walls, and air ducts at 414 Grant Street to keep a good buzz going for any junkie.

Now, I'll you'll excuse me, I have to go polish off a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.

* Well, maybe having everyone drunk all the time
isn't such a bad idea. Cheers!

Pointless Milestones...

So, when do I get my gold watch already?

This post brought to you by a stubborn, nay, pigheaded unwillingness to let this damned blog die after 5 years, despite its detrimental effects to my health, relationships, and personal hygiene. Thanks for putting up with me for so long.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Sarah Palin to Join Fox News

Laura Ingraham, Gretchen Carlson, Elizabeth Hasselbeck, and the former Alaskan Governor expect to put heads together to form giant wind tunnel.

Senator Harry Reid Apologizes for Being a Spineless Milquetoast

Washington D.C. (Reuters) - Coming under fire from both the right and the left, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) apologized today for comments he made regarding everything he's ever said and done since becoming Majority Leader.

"My comments and actions were out of line. I have apologized to the President personally and will take steps to rectify my actions in the future."

The controversy broke over the weekend when the Senator made an offhanded multiple term as Majority Leader and, despite having an overwhelming majority in the chamber, has been unable to pass any major legislation. The Senator tried to mitigate his actions by saying that he "only had 60 Senators to work with".

Bloggers on the left reacted strongly, saying that members of the Republican party would not be allowed to get away with such an offense. Conservative talk radio hosts raise equal ire, calling on Senator Reid to step down immediately.

Larry O'Ladel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute says that such controversies are minor, despite all the "yelling and preening."

"See, you have both parties really who are guilty of this kind of mortal sin. On the left your have Harry Reid who couldn't find his own ass if you gave him a flashlight and a map; on the right you have Michael Steele who has already sunk his party to new lows, and has started to dig. So really, neither side can claim a moral superiority."

The White House released a terse statement accepting Sen. Reid's apology, adding that if the Majority leader was not going to use the Senate, the President would like "to borrow it for a while."

Another controversy surrounding the Senator Majority Leader regarding an out of context racially insensitive comment from 2008 were deemed to be not newsworthy.

A Bureaucrat's Aside Re: Bitter, Bitter Cold

When I was young, my grandmother showed me old pictures of the Ohio River frozen over, with people walking and skating over it. Granted, at that time, before the locks were installed, the river flowed a bit shallower so it makes sense that it would freeze.

River flows deeper today; still freezes if it's really cold though.

Really, really cold.

Like this week.

The Prevailing Wages of Sin...

And now it's Luke's turn on the Prevailing Wage see-saw:

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl kicked off the second half of a bruising fight over new rules for development subsidies yesterday, proposing his own version of prevailing wage legislation that he vetoed on New Year's Eve...

The mayor's version would exclude infrastructure spending, investments by city authorities, and federal or state funds from the calculation, and would exclude any project in which the remaining city subsidy was less than 10 percent of the total project cost.
It would also exclude any projects that were actually built in Pittsburgh, if my sources in the Mayor's Office are to be believed. Critics of the bill are right to point out that there would probably be only a handful of projects that these new rules would be applicable to, which is either (a) the Mayor's point or (b) a cynical political ploy to pass a prevailing wage bill without really passing a prevailing wage bill.

Of course, these are not mutually exclusive.

But what got me was this provision:
It would only take effect if Allegheny County approved similar legislation.
Which sort of makes sense as the City's commercial market is porous and does not stop at Summer Hill, or Overbrook, or Fairywood, or Regent Square; so, it would be just as easy for a small municipality (where one does not have to deal with the same level of regulation) to siphon off development. This is the same argument that the opponents to the County smoking ban used.

There is an opportunity here for prevailing wage supporters: the cynical side of the coin says that the County would never pass a prevailing wage bill, so the whole damned thing is a moot point anyway. HOWEVER, there is a certain county executive who "has been working very hard to earn the support of organized labor," and expects "o have some announcements coming up. So, what better way to win the doorknocking prowess of the SEIU, than to help them win, not just a City ordnance, but an entire County?

But then, you still have to deal with the reality that grocery stores, for example, would be much more likely to start up in suburban greenfield areas (where they don't need assistance) than in urban brownfield sites (where the need for nutritional security is greatest).

And to answer your question with another question Chris: would Henry George consider prevailing wage a "tariff" on labor?

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Sleeping Child Found on School Bus

Another local child was found yesterday, asleep on a school bus after the driver failed to check his bus at the end of his route.

The child, Luke Ravenstahl, had been sworn in as Mayor of Pittsburgh early that day and was, according to his Chief of Staff "plum tired" from a day of speeches, drinks, and back slapping.

"Well, the little guy had been working so hard," said Joanna Doven, Mayoral Spokesman, "I can imagine that there was nothing else he would have rather done than take a good nap."

Questions have arisen, however, about whose responsibility it was to watch over the Mayor. Public Safety Director Michael Huss refused to comment, except to say that "Every situation that happens regarding a mayor not getting off at his fundraiser is totally different and requires a complete investigation before you can act properly."

In December, A-1 Transit fired a driver after a Greenfield K-8 second-grader fell asleep on a school van and was found in a Lawrenceville garage. The driver didn't perform the required check of every seat before leaving the van, according to an A-1 Transit manager. An A-1 Transit worker performing a second check found the child. School officials planned to charge the driver with endangering the welfare of a child. In November, former Councilwoman Tonya Payne fell asleep at a public meeting and was not awoken until the cleaning crew found her several hours later.

The Mayor, however, was calm during the incident and asked for his binky and a juicebox, before falling asleep in his office.

An Open Letter to Winter

Dear Winter,

We need to talk. I know that you've had a lot of things going on with the solstice and global climate change and everything, so I know that you're really busy right now, but I'm afraid that this just isn't working out for me. I mean, I know that you're trying to do your best, but really your best isn't good enough for me. Sure, you have the cold down, and I appreciate being able to hide under my Snuggie™ with a warm cup of hot chocolate. I also appreciate that you aren't sleety and freezing rainy like the last winter I knew. That was no fun whatsoever. Still, I think that you can do better.

I remember a long time ago, there used to be snow... not the one, two inches that you've been working on, but feet and feet of snow. So much snow that the City was literally shut down because you couldn't get anywhere. I miss that and right now, what you've doing, although I appreciate the effort, just means that I have to clean the car off twice a day, or shovel the walk three times a day. It's not satisfying, and honestly, I don't think it's working out.

Now, I'm going to give you one more chance to snow, and I mean really snow. I want it to snow so much that I can ride a sled from home to work (and yes, that means that you'll have to freeze the river too), preferably with my own pack of Iditarod-ready Huskies. I believe that you can do it.

I don't want to have to go back to Summer for my precipitation needs.

The Angry Drunk Bureaucrat

Rendell Chooses "Mystery Box" in Lieu of Table Games

Harrisburg (Reuters)- Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell chose "The Mystery" box over signing legislation that would have allowed table games in Commonwealth licensed casinos.

He made his choice on bill 711 after being presented with the Box by Rep. Monty Hall, and at the encouragement of the Studio Audience.

Mr. Rendell did say he has some "misgivings" about the bill and was looking for another alternative to plugging the Commonwealth's revenue short falls.

"The bill is laden with pork and special projects and will only acerbate lingering social issues that casinos cause, while returning nothing of substance to communities in the long run. And, I mean it's a 'mystery box'. Who doesn't love a good mystery?"

Senate Republicans were not impressed by the Governor's Choice. State Senator Lisa Baker, who was dressed as a duck for the occasion, said that Rendell should have held out for the next round.

"He could have had his choice between Door Number 1, Door Number 2, or Door Number 3, but instead he went straight for the box. Anything could have been behind those doors: cars, dunebuggies, catamarans... you can't fit those kinds of things into a box, no matter how 'mysterious' it may be."

Bill 711 was designed to help with a revenue shortfall in the previously approved state budget. The mystery box may or may not be able assist in those matters.

The Governor said he was comfortable with his choice, but was alarmed by the sudden presence of Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman.

Contents of the "mystery box" will be revealed tomorrow.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Box of Rocks Elected City Council President

A bitterly divided Pittsburgh City Council reached a surprise decision in the race for its new president today, picking A Box of Rocks in a 5-4 vote.

The struggle for Council Presidency had coalesced around Councilmen Rev. Ricky Burgess and Bill Peduto, but when neither of them could muster the necessary 5 votes, both camps scrambled over the weekend to find a compromise candidate.

Council broke into two camps: one supporting A Bag of Hammers and the other supporting A Sharp Marble. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's office lobbied extensively for A Bag of Hair, in an effort to thwart opponents on council.

In early morning conferences, however, A Box of Rocks was identified as a potential compromise candidate and quickly garnered the necessary 5 votes to win.

Before election to council, A Box of Rocks was previously in charge of the City's "Lights on While No One's Home" Program, and more recently headed the "Elevator Short of Top Floor" and "Extracting Water in Boots with Instructions Written on Heel" Commissions. Representatives from the Sharp Knives in Drawers Organization, a City Government watchdog group, says that "A Box of Rocks provides the intellectual leadership that Council deserves."

Friday, January 01, 2010

Prevailing Winds

Honestly, it says something about City Council that they were caught off guard and sniped by the Mayor's Office at the last minute:

A proposed new development rule that had seemed well on its way into the city of Pittsburgh's code book was surprisingly derailed yesterday by a mayoral veto.

Some City Council members made a last-minute effort last night to override the veto, but the attempt fell one vote short of the six votes needed for an override...

Mr. Ravenstahl had said long before the vote that he did not "anticipate being a strong advocate against it." But at 3:54 p.m., his office sent over a veto message saying that the piece "has too many vague and ambiguous terms, needs additional input from the entire community, and, most importantly, has the potential to hurt Pittsburgh."

Because the veto came about eight hours before the end of the two-year council session, there was no way, under the city code, for the body to meet to vote to override. Special meetings can be called only with 24 hours notice.
Not having heard that the legislation had been signed as of yesterday when Jim Motznik resigned, I assumed that Luke was getting pressure from forces both inside and outside City government and was going to pull out the veto pen. Frankly, I was surprised that the Mayor sent over the veto message as early as 3:54 p.m. I can only assume that City Clerk Linda Johnson-Wasler was going home at 4, otherwise I would have expected the Mayor to wait until after Council was already (let's say) "filled with holiday cheer" at around 8 PM and completely unable to call any type of sensible meeting.

Although, I must say that the progress of this bill itself has been unusual all around: a major piece of legislation introduced after November elections with two lame-duck members, Council reluctantly giving it a public hearing, a domineering Council President railroading the bill through, infighting between council supporters of the bill, a reluctance by Council Members to hear possible side effects of the legislation, and a local union twisting thumb screws behind closed doors. Folks can call what the Mayor did "a blatant abuse of power," but something about how this bill came about does not sit easy in my stomach.

(That may be last night's mixture of pork, sauerkraut and champagne, however, which has been known to cause similar gastrointestinal... uh... issues.)

Now, personally, I don't think that this legislation is particularly well thought out to begin with and I don't believe that our elected officials have any clue as to what the bill will actually do to the City. Council is not known for thinking deeply about unintended consequences (or being intellectually curious at all for that matter), but I would recommend to them that they take this opportunity to have a real, in-depth analysis of what the consequences of this bill might be and then bring it back to the table. There may be ways that the City can effect the same desired outcomes which have not been considered by Council.

I mean, they don't want to be caught off guard again, right?


Happy New Year!