Minutes from the March 11, 2004 meeting of the Committee on Finance and the Budget:
Councilors present: LEONARD BODACK, TWANDA CARLISLE, ALAN HERTZBERG, JIM MOTZNIK, LUKE RAVENSTAHL, DOUG SHIELDS, WILLIAM PEDUTO, SALA UDIN and GENE RICCIARDI, president.
MR. RAVENSTAHL moved to discuss Bill No. 2004-0122, an ordinance to amend the Pittsburgh Code, Title Two, Article VII by decreasing parking taxes to 20 percent. Motion seconded by MR. RICCIARDI.
MR. RAVENSTAHL asked council to support his bill, which would pay for a reduction in the parking tax by selling off PNC Park and having the Pirates play in a refurbished Heinz Field converted to a multi-use facility. Such stadiums, "in which football and baseball teams can use the same field, are really the wave of the future," MR. RAVENSTAHL said.
MR. UDIN thanked MR. RAVENSTAHL for the "youthful vigor" he'd brought to city fiscal issues and said he had "nothing but respect for the councilman's fresh-faced, wet-behind-the-ears approach to governance." But he said the stadiums were owned not by the city but the Sports and Exhibition Authority, "which the mayor appoints and which would never go along with this plan. Mr. Ravenstahl was probably still in knee-pants when the stadiums were built, though -- and I say that with all the respect in the world."
MR. UDIN offered an amendment to the bill which would raise property taxes to pay for the parking tax decrease instead.
MR. HERTZBERG objected that council had rejected MR. UDIN's proposal twice before. MR. MOTZNIK displayed a sign on an easel reading, "When the horse is dead, get off" and asked that it be read into the record. MR. MOTZNIK also asked that the record reflect that he was "not wearing rubber boots like I did during budget talks. This time I've got chaps on instead."
MR. BODACK moved to amend MR. UDIN'S amendment. His own "compromise bill," in which the parking tax would be decreased on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and alternate Sundays. Except on equinoxes or solstices, when the tax would be waived entirely to honor the Triune God.
MR. UDIN seconded. MR. BODACK's bill passed by a 5-4 vote, until several councilors admitted they'd forgotten what they were voting on: the original bill, the amendment, or the amendment to the amendment. The clerk was asked to re-read MR. BODACK's measure. On a recount, the measure was defeated 7-2.
MR. RAVENSTAHL reminded council that though the amendment had been defeated, his original bill was still on the floor. "And just because something might be illegal doesn't make it a bad idea," he said.
MR. UDIN disagreed and said the mayor had a plan to rescue the city, but that information about the plan was released on a "need-to-know" basis only.
MR. MOTZNIK announced that if other councilors were going to act as mouthpieces for the mayor, he would get a mouthpiece of his own. Whereupon he asked the clerk to record the presence of MR. CHUCKLES, a ventriloquist's dummy sitting upon his lap.
MR. BODACK moved that MR. MOTZNIK and MR. CHUCKLES not be given two votes on council "unless I can bring my sock puppets too." Motion seconded by MR. UDIN and carried by voice vote, MR. CHUCKLES abstaining.
MR. SHIELDS asked whether the mayor supported the measure or not, and requested "representatives of the mayor's office -- I know they're watching on TV -- appear before this council and make their feelings on this issue known."
MR. PEDUTO said that he would interpret the mayor's absence "as a sign the mayor whole-heartedly endorses this legislation." He added that he planned to introduce legislation purchasing ermine robes for every member of council, and that he'd construe the mayor's continuing absence as "a sign he endorses that legislation too. This could be fun!"
MR. HERTZBERG said he "was almost positive" that he could see representatives of the mayor's office "peeking through the door and snickering at us." MR. RICCIARDI was dispatched to check the door, but could see no one in the hallway. Someone had, however, "toilet-papered the entire entrance."
MR. MOTZNIK offered to get a Ouija board from his office to consult the "dearly departed spirit of leadership in this city. Maybe we'll get lucky and contact the ghost of David Lawrence." MR. RICCIARDI moved that MR. MOTZNIK stop acting "like City Council's prop comic." The motion was seconded by MR. UDIN and approved by roll-call vote.
MR. UDIN charged that the budget "sets priorities that victimize those of us who can least afford it -- the poor and the elderly." The budget, he said, was "balanced on the backs of the impoverished." MR. UDIN then asked that a copy of Frederick Douglass' address to the 1876 Republican National Convention be read into the record alongside John Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner" address to the citizens of Germany. MR. UDIN also asked that the record reflect that, "I am not seeking to become mayor, despite what it looks like."
MR. RICCIARDI also asked the record to reflect he had "no interest in higher office either." He then urged councilors to consider "the effect of property tax rates on seniors, the residents who have been voting -- I mean living here -- the longest."
MS. CARLISLE asked that her half-hour-long silence be entered into the record "in case anyone reading these minutes doubts I was here."
MR. RICCIARDI called for a vote on MR. RAVENSTAHL's amendment, which passed by a 7-2 vote.
MR. PEDUTO voiced concern that while everyone came to council with their problems, "no one inside the administration -- or outside of it -- seems to take us seriously. I can't understand why that is."
Members of the new city financial oversight board, led by FISCAL OVERLORD JIM RODDEY, appeared in council and, after being recognized by Finance Chair HERTZBERG, announced they were just "measuring for new drapes." MR. CHUCKLES moved that council approve the minutes and adjourn, MR. RICCIARDI seconded. The measure passed by unanimous voice vote.