As if the news weren't bad enough for the city of Pittsburgh, revenues appear to have taken an unexpected plunge in 2003, according to initial tallies from the city controller's office. A spreadsheet of city collections shows that it took in about $347 million in taxes, fees, fines and aid last year, down from $353 million in 2002. Last year's take is $10 million less than the city had budgeted for, even when you don't count the $29 million in revenue Mayor Tom Murphy sought from new taxes that were never approved by the state.
Coming in way under budget, according to the unaudited spreadsheets, were the earned income tax ($3 million short); property taxes from current and prior years ($2.5 million short); the city's share of the countywide 1 percent sales tax ($1.9 million short); parking taxes ($1.9 million short); state aid ($1.7 million short); and interest on bank balances ($900,000 short). "It's just the way the economy has been," says city Treasurer Rich Fees. "It's still struggling."
Even the few areas in which the city had unexpected windfalls are a little depressing. It collected $1.1 million more than budgeted from Emergency Medical Services billings, and $700,000 more in deed transfer taxes -- revenue from people getting hurt, and people selling out.
Fees notes that Pittsburgh's economic swings tend to trail the nation's by about six months, so the city's economic recovery may be just around the corner. It had better be; the 2004 budget, even after spending cuts, calls for $390 million in revenues, and efforts to bridge the yawning gap are just beginning. (See Political Footballs, p. 17.)