Monday, July 30, 2007

and again city-county consolidation

PG again talks about city/county consolidation. It's a complicated issue, about as complicated as it gets in local politics. I have had different people tell me that city-county consolidation could take all sorts of forms: everything from a simple state resolution dissolving all 2nd class cities (of which there just happens to be only one), to a straightforward merger of the city by the county, to what would have to be the case: some complex bifurcated city government existing as a shell within the county structure.

I have to admit that in any of these scenarios I only have one question: where does the city's debt land in the end? It was an important lawyer in town who told me that simply dissolving city government was once seriously considered years ago. That's a pretty extreme scenario and it's funny to think about it that way. If the city just disappears one day and nothing else happens, where do any unpaid bills get mailed to?

Anyway, this is nothing new. but for new readers who are interested I will again put up this link for my Primer on Regionalism and Fragmentation in Pittsburgh. One snippit of history long since forgotten: there once was a plan to merge city and county governments. Not only that, but county residents once overwhelmingly voted to merge the city and the county. Only the ultimate legislative legerdemain in Harrisburg blocked it from happening.

That was in 1929. Why did it fail? In what was called a "printer's error" the enabling legislation of the county-wide resolution was altered, supposedly without legislators' knowledge, to require approval from a "majority of voters in a supermajority of municipalities" to a "supermajorty of voters in a majority of municipalities". There is some serious game theory for you. But in the end it meant that even though the consolidation plan was approved by 69% of the voters in the county, the resolution technically failed. Why? Most voters approved resolution. Even a supermajority of municipalities approved the resolution, but only 49% of the municipalities approved the resolution by 2/3rds or more. Thus it 'failed'. If the enabling legislation had been worded as the legislators intended, the referendum would have passed and few of these current debates would be going on.

and to my knowledge, history never fully resolved how the 'error' (it was also called a political 'joker' at the time) was introduced into the legislation... although an educated guess would narrow down the culprits to a few or one. For a hint as to who that was, consult Jason T. down at Tube City Online.

Which brings up one of the most surreal political ads of all time. Attached was a full page newspaper ad that was placed in support of the 1929 city county consolidation referendum. Can you imagine such an ad today:


Anonymous Anonymous said...

At a recent event I attended on behalf of Dan Onorato's re-election campaign, the county exec made it clear that consolidation would have to happen the same way that it was handled in Louisville, Kentucky. Accordingly to Mr. Onorato, as for pensions, that means that the Commonwealth would have to either fold the City pension fund into the state fund or make a one-time contribution to bring the fund current. As for other debt, it would have to be assumed by the Commonwealth. Those two pre-conditions said to me that consolidation will only happen when (a) things get much worse and there is no alternative or (b) h-e-double toothpicks freezes over. Harrisburg won't assist big-city transit. What makes anyone think that it would support what would most-assuredly be called a "bailout" of Pittsburgh.

Monday, July 30, 2007 10:30:00 AM  

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