Tuesday, December 8, 2009
I'm going to interrupt my usual liberal whining for some straight-up self-aggrandizement.
If reading this blog hasn't satisfied your appetite for discussion of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's tuition tax, you might want to give a listen to a radio debate I took part in yesterday on the subject. The discussion took place on Pittsburgh Business Radio, a regular feature on WMNY 1360, and was hosted by former mayoral candidate Mark DeSantis. The other disputants were co-host Anna Dobkin, the learned and garrulous Joe Mistick, and the inimitable Chad Hermann.
All smart folks, and among that crowd, I was probably the person most sympathetic to Ravenstahl, though I think there was broad agreement that:
a) the city ain't as well run as it could be
b) it's fair to expect big non-profits to contribute more to the cost of city services than they have so far.
Interestingly, the argument seemed to focus less on the goals themselves than on the best means toward achieving them. My fellow panelists, for example, argued that Ravenstahl should have taken a more collaborative approach to seeking revenue from non-profits .... whereas I'm more from the "power concedes nothing without a demand" school.
In fact, it only occurred to me as I was driving back to the office that Ravenstahl's proposal has something in common with an idea suggested back in 2007 ... by former mayoral candidate Mark DeSantis.
During a debate hosted by City Paper, DeSantis was asked what he would do to get more money from the non-profits. His response was that non-profits might be encouraged to give more money if it was earmarked toward shoring up the city's pension fund rather than general operating expenses. That is, as you probably know, what Ravenstahl's "tuition tax" would do -- direct the money straight to the pensions.
Non-profits, said DeSantis,
think the general fund, the financial budget of the city, is a financial shredder. And they're just very ambivalent about giving more money ... I think we can get a bigger commitment if they knew that the money was going to be dedicated for specific purposes. The money from the non-profit community would not go into the general fund, but actually would go specifically to key purposes, like for example funding the pension fund. I have a proposal that I've put forward previously where we would take at least the amounts that we've gotten in the last three years, $5 million a year -- ideally much more than that -- and that money would go directly into the pension fund.
We're all hearing chatter about how Ravenstahl is talking to universities now, and how he's willing to belay his tuition tax pending the outcome of those negotiations. This may be a chance to test DeSantis' theory, albeit two years later.
Anyway, it was a good and thoughtful discussion all around. And since it was radio, it wasn't immediately apparent that I was -- once again -- the worst-dressed person in the discussion. That makes it an improvement over this KDKA-TV segment from a couple weekends back, in which the bloggesr are the ones wearing the ties, and the "professional journalist" looks like he just woke up on his parents' couch.
I had to split early from the DeSantis show, but other segments can be found here.
And since I'm whoring myself out, I'll also note that tomorrow I'm moderating a citylive! discussion tomorrow evening. This is a reprise of an event I hosted last year, while slightly buzzed (thanks to a drinking game I was playing with the other attendees). Ten Pittsburghers, all of whom are much more talented and creative than myself, will share their ideas for improving the city -- in three minutes or less. Ideas range from the pragmatic to the fanciful. There's plenty of opportunity for audience participation, and with any luck, I may figure out how to knot a necktie by the time the event kicks off.
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