Pierogie: It's All About the Dough | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pierogie: It's All About the Dough

City Paper's mayoral candidate unveils his financial goals

There are some differences between me and other politicians. First, unlike anyone else, I'm challenging incumbent Luke Ravenstahl this May. That's why I hope you'll vote for the real bobblehead by writing in "pierogie" on the ballot May 15. Second, I'm supposed to be all squishy inside. Other officials don't have that excuse ... yet they've been hiding the truth about city finances.

Despite the drama of recent years, Pittsburgh's finances are as shoddy as they were a decade ago. We still have among the nation's largest debt -- more than $1 billion, roughly $10,000 for every household in the city. Our pension fund is a mess, and tax-exempt non-profits aren't helping enough. We have state overseers monitoring our finances, but they've done little to fix these problems.

Even Bill Peduto, who dropped out of this race, wasn't being straight. He bragged about supporting state oversight, without mentioning how useless it's been. According to the respected Brookings Institute, state oversight offers only "limited ... long-term hope for success."

Gutting the workforce won't help. These problems piled up over decades; cutting day-to-day services won't help. Instead I would:

Explore going into bankruptcy. Sounds radical, but corporations do it; why shouldn't we? Like us, companies like US Airways incurred massive pension and other debt they could never pay off with day-to-day revenue. They chose bankruptcy. It's painful, but why should taxpayers do what CEOs can't?

Some say the courts won't let Pittsburgh go bankrupt. That's one thing I'd want to examine. But merely considering this option will send a message to state officials. Especially when we ...

Demand real state help. In future years, the state requires us to lower taxes on parking and non-profit cultural events. That's costly and unfair: The parking tax is one of the few ways suburbanites contribute to tax rolls, and why should the tax on ballet tickets be less than the tax on bleacher seats? In return for these cuts, the state has promised revenue from gambling, but there are concerns about how much money will materialize, and when. I'd push to state officials to roll back such planned reductions, and to ...

Squeeze non-profits. Giving a few million dollars for a few years -- which is all the non-profits have done -- isn't enough. Especially considering tax-exempts like UPMC are among the region's biggest employers. I'd push for the city's payroll-preparation tax, a 0.55 percent levy on salaries, to apply to non-profits. That's what it was supposed to do when Mayor Tom Murphy proposed it, but it was imposed on everyone except non-profits. Time to change that. Unless non-profits want to make larger contributions on their own ...

Change union benefits. Previous mayors promised workers retirement benefits years down the road. Now those mayors are gone, and we're stuck with the bill. In future contract talks, I'd seek to change retirement plans to a 401(k)-type system. We'd contribute to retirement plans today, not pledge benefits tomorrow. That way, we'd offer only what we could afford, and workers could rely on what we promised.

Of course, all these ideas would require political courage. That's why a talking pierogie is the only one suggesting them.

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By Mars Johnson