Thursday, September 30, 2010

recession, depression, diaspora

Some occassionally ask why I keep track of the relative unemployment rate for the region as I do.  The main reason is that relative metrics like that are key to understanding migration flows impacting the region. So here we are emerging from a long recession, yet people still get confused over what it means for the region.  One reason the local unemployment rate remains high, though much lower than the US, is that completely unlike most any past recession here, we are attracting folks from elsewhere

So just an anecdote on that to go along with the data I posted earlier in the year, but listen or read the NPR piece today and see the immediate Pittsburgh reference:

10 years ago, 20 years ago or 30 years ago, that recession story would have been written the other way around when it came to the Pittsburgh angle.. and I am sure it was written over and over again.  Those temporary recession moves often have much longer run outcomes as Pittsburgh learned painfully.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

To Harrisburg with love

Harrisburg is looking for lawyers with a very rare expertise: municipal bankruptcy in Pennsylvania. That is pretty much the long tail of the legal world.   Funny how there is no mention of anyone needing 'permission' from the state to file for bankruptcy, a common retort to those who think Pittsburgh could never have filed for bankruptcy in the past.  

Just think though, in Harrisburg's case the legal filings would not  have to travel far with correspondence never having to leave Harrisburg proper.. It is only about 6 blocks from Harrisburg City Hall to the PA Department of Community and Economic Development. The Federal Courthouse is even closer.

Anyway, see this from the American Lawyer just now:

Or the Financial Times' Friday story: City of Harrisburg to seek bankruptcy advice

Bond Buyer: Harrisburg Council Rejects Selected FA Firm

WSJ version: Adviser Takes Heat for Helping Sell Off Public Assets

Something is going to give here and it is hard to tell what.

What I once said for Pittsburgh is as true for Harrisburg today. That was 8 years ago if you believe that.  This version was 5 years ago and the point is as valid today.. that any municipal bankruptcy has real costs on municipalities across the Commonwealth.


Rent a Slogan: Strong as Steel

Something called has a piece (locally written): Strong as Steel, providing a profile, but is focused on the local apartment rental market.

They didn't get two memos it seems.   I didn't think you were allowed to reference the steel motif in those things any more, so the image police are going to send them a note.  They also didnt notice the Census Bureau's press release yesterday that went out of its way to emphasize that we had the cheapest residential rent in the nation.  low rental prices are not exactly a sign of a strong market in anything..   or so I thought.

Seriously though.. the article above looks to be written by local folks with real estate company CB Richard Ellis and it does have their forecast for the residential apartment market which is important.


Parking evermore

So the PG version today on the City of Pittsburgh parking issues is:  City Council remains intent on finding alternatives to parking lease

I've posted this before, but it may be even more apropos today.  Fascinating to me is this undergraduate thesis from 1950 which is nominally some unique early history of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.  See:

The Allegheny Conference for Community Development for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
by John David Weidlein. May 1950.
Apologies, the scanning has the pages a bit off and it starts with the section on parking. Not as intentional as it seems.  It is an undergraduate thesis, but it is a fascinating look at the early Conference history and really in context of the parking debate today really fascinating.  It was about the Conference, but much of it was about parking which must have reflected the things they really were focused on in the late 1940's. Housing as well, but that early history of the Pittsburgh Parking Authority now in the news is in there.  It really is a time capsure of sorts.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Real cartographers use pushpins!

For the record I have a store of map tacks and real honest-to-goodness maps (and charts) and have been using them since long before MapInfo came around.

But someone really really needs to track down the dude with the map in this story and digitize that push pin covered map he has there: See this from WHYY in Philly:  The Shale Game, Part 3: Jobs.  Talk about primary data.

need...... shapefile....  bad...


almost 4 years

Just because it is an unmentioned factoid in the various news blurbs on the latest labor force stats for the region...  I should wait until next month to update this when it will work out to be be an even 48 months, but for now it is 47 months since the regional unemployment rate was higher than the national rate. 

The data reflects August, so end of summer data not reflective of folks heading back to schoolyet.  When you consider that educational services remains one of the largest employment sectors in the region, coupled with all the stories of record enrollments and local colleges and universities this year, I would not expect any convergence of the local and national time series in the immediate future. 


Monday, September 27, 2010

It's Chilly Billy day, not Bill Cardille day!

Just when I thought there would be nothing to comment on today, the news says city council is making it Bill Cardille day.  So from the Null Space archives I give you this... 

Speaking of video...  does anyone have a link to the Range Resources commercial that is playing on tv?  I couldn't quickly find anything on Youtube or related?


Sunday, September 26, 2010

footnotes to a rant

Well, hopefully it didn't come across as a rant.  I should shut up for the day since I clearly have had my say on the Op/Ed pages today.  You can read my G20 postscript in the Post-Gazette today: What did Pittsburgh learn from the G20?

Op/Ed's are an imperfect medium if for no other reason than their limited length. It would have taken me a few more column inches to work in what I had originally intended to be the title.. something like: Perpetually Beta 'burgh.  For a general audience it just would not have made sense for most of the readers, though it really would have been perfect for others.

Also no footnotes in an Op/Ed, which they sure could use.   One theme of what I was trying to write was really about perceptions of Pittsburgh. Perceptions others have of us, and our own perceptions of ourselves. Don't I get a point for not bringing up Border Guard Bob?  
What I included in there for color was a reference to past misperceptions of Pittsburgh, in particular that which evolved from 19th century journalist James Parton.  Parton being the nominalprogenitor of the the "Hell with the lid off" description of Pittsburgh.  It may be one of the widely misused phrases in Pittsburgh history.  During the G20 media frenzy its metaphorical use really went over the top. 

It is all really an excuse to talk about two things. One is my personal provenance in understanding the history of Parton's quote, which came from Sam Macdonalds pathfinder, if now quiescent, blog on Pittsburgh: Antirust.   His post from several years ago on the misused Parton quote was insightful:  Pittsburgh, Hell with the context left out.   Yet even that post needed it's own footnote, as Sam explains he was following up on anonymous comments from one of Antirust's loyal readers. Thus the Brownian motion of ideas.

Got me thinking though.  Sam was a journalist for Reason his online bio says and he has a couple books out there.  One book should be coming back into it's own these days.  In his first book: Agony of an American Wildnerness (link below), he wrote on the impact/conflict and general social milieu in and around the Allegheny National Forest as it dealt with the complex issue of logging.  Sam is actually from Ridgeway, PA, and if you have ever been there you can legitimately say you grew up in a forest.

What the book says.???  well, you have to get the book.  On his blog Sam was a self-described Libertarian to at least some degree. Remember, Libertarians tend to refuse to fall into any one 'camp' or not when it comes to our bipolar politics.  Worth a read just for that.

Though the book was written about logging , it sure seems to me the fundamental issues he wrote about are now playing out ten-fold with the Marcellus Mania across almost all of Pennsylvania.   Might be a good time for a reprinting of the book given all the new interest in resource politics across Pennsylvania. (just for fun, let's prod Mr. Google and sundry search engines to find this by adding gratuitously:  "MARCELLUS SHALE BOOKS").   That and maybe Sam will get a few marginal bucks if a few more copies of his book are purchased:


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Existential Authority of the Parking Authority

Well then.  Who has the crib notes on the 191 pages (including appendices) of the report commissioned by City Council on the proposed leasing of parking assets?  The conclusion, as best I can tell, is that there is no conclusion.  Conclusions are overrated anyway.

I jest a bit. One conclusion, or theme, is that even with the planned monetization and recapitalization of the pension fund the pension fund is in trouble.  That isn't news in any form.  The report does not get into it at all, and in fact on that point references my iPension page on the state of the pension system (see page 6). Curious that; you would think the city would have provided them with all the pension data they would have needed and then some.  Simply put, getting the pension system to 50% funded basically puts it to where it was earlier this decade. I actuallys suspect the pension system had eeked back to near 50% funding between 2005 and 2006 for a brief period. The point is that the trend was bad back then, leading us to where we are today. At best this all moves us to the edge of the frying pan is all.

So it is a valid question how much this helps in the long run.  There is another angle to this. Even with all the new cash, the threatened state takeover could still be in play pretty soon once the very next liability calculations are completed.  New liability calculations will be based on where the pension system is at as of January 1, 2011, just a few months from now. Will be a long time before we learn the actuarial health of the system as of 1/1/11, but when we do get that information, it will likely show that there will never have been a day when the pension fund was over 50% funded.  It is merely the fiction of dividing current assets by a liability calcuation reflecting where we were almost 2 years ago that gives us the warm fuzzy. 

Too actuarially esoteric?  Maybe we are missing the bigger issues which are simpler.  A friend suggested this to me.  If you actually read the enabling legislation allowing for the creation of the parking authority in the first place it has some interesting verbiage.  The section specifically circumscribing the freedom the parking authority has to set rates does not seem to mention either profit for an investment bank nor the need to pay off pension liabilities among the list of valid factors it can consider. Hmm..

Here is an excerpt of section  § 5505. Purposes and powers of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Parking Authority Law (Act of June 5, 1947, 53 P.S. § 341 et. seq.) that describes the valid factors such an authorities can use to set rates:

(d) Powers.......An authority has all powers necessary or convenient for the
carrying out of the purposes under this section, including:
9) To fix, alter, charge and collect rates and other charges for its facilities at reasonable rates to be determined exclusively by it, subject to appeal under this paragraph, for the purposes of providing for the payment of the expenses of the authority; for the construction, improvement, repair, maintenance and operation of its facilities and properties; for the payment of the principal of and interest on its obligations; and for fulfilling the terms and provisions of agreements made with the purchasers or holders of such obligations or with the municipality. Any person questioning the reasonableness of rates fixed by the authority may bring suit against the authority in the court of common pleas of the judicial district where the project is located. The court of common pleas shall have exclusive jurisdiction to determine the reasonableness of the rates and other charges. This paragraph supersedes a contrary provision in any home rule charter, ordinance or resolution.
Some other less interesting stuff in there as well in other sections.  Anyone pay attention to all the talk that they decreased the lease duration from 75 years to 50 years as an improvement on the plan for various reasons?  Turns out § 5504 is pretty explicit that the parking authority can only authorized to exist for 50 years and not longer.  It can be extended at any time, but only with a 50 year horizon. Thus no 75-year deal could have been put in place without some serious legal machinations.  Basically, they didn't have much choice on that one.

You wonder what other legal issues there may be with this deal.


Friday, September 24, 2010

that mountain goat must be an octogenarian by now - and other stories to follow up on

Our friend Mr. (or I suppose he would prefer Colonel) Mckelvey and his great deal on Marcellus invesment we mentioned last Sunday.  The state saw the same ad I did and took prompt action.  Trib: Marcellus investment operation shut down.  Chalk one up for the state. I don't quite believe however that a local 73 year old fake Colonel is the only person in the entire state using the mania over Marcellus riches to scam people.. he just happened to be dumb enough to place a half page ad in one of the most widely circulated paprs in town detailing how fraudulent it likely was.  If you recall the ad, which I had scanned in the link above, it had this great penultimate line "Benefits the commonwealth of Pennsylvania".  Just over the top. 

and remember I was not so happy with how limited my natural gas purchasing options are right now.   PG has some follow up there. PG: Natural gas rate offers could hold traps.  Now if I can just get folks to focus on the broader picture of why our supposedly semi-competitive natural gas markets are not producing the lower prices they ought to.  Too much hassle to go buy natural gas in Ohio to use here, but there certainly is incentive to do so. 

And this goes way back.  Some really really boring problems are awfully important.   and apparently for Pittsburgh the hardest to fix. Think about Street names? In the Trib:  Pittsburgh to review street names after series of 911 errors

I think we covered this once.. but my colleagues have been banging on this for a long time.  Also reminds me, what is up with the wikipedia entry for the steps of Pittsburgh?  It could use a little move love, but somone did add a picture. Cool.

You know, some of us like the ambulance to show up at the right address. Calling Phyllis Pearsall!

Yeah...  That's not a goat in Pittsburgh, but I literally almost asked that goat directions once upon a time. Seemed appropriate.

Finally. Now just need to get someone to go follow up on what Jero is up to lately... ;-(


Slots not what your commonwealth can do for you

Still waiting for that big property tax rebate to come from all these new tax revenues generated by the casinos?  Well........

Some time series you kind of expect to have occassional ticks up even if the trend is down.  Not the story of late down on the North Shore.  Latest data from the casino shows that use of the slots machines had another big drop in the week ended Sept 19. See below.

New Philly casino impacting us?  Realize that someday there will be a Lawrence County or nearby casino much closer. Then the Ohio casinos will all open with a big splash.  You have to wonder where this is all heading.  They could save a lot of money if they could refinance their debt.  But even if they had that option, I am not sure what interest rates the market will give you when you are already in a state of selective default, according to the ratings agencies.

Table games might be making up some or all of the decreased slots play... nonetheless slots revenues are well below that June rating drop and cash infusion they needed down there.  Is more cash on the way?

BTW...   What is up with the property assessment appeal down there at the casino?


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Silos of Small Beer?

ok.. that isn't my title, but talk about using a title to catch folks' attention.  Here is your required reading for the day:

The Center for American Progress has a report subtitled: A Case Study of the Efficacy of Federal Innovation Programs in a Key Midwest Regional Economy.  The actual title is really:  Silos of Small Beer.

It is about us and just a couple other nearby regions (Pittsburgh-Akron-Cleveland-Youngstown to be specific, so it's yet another Cleveburgh story), and the title picture is...  us as well.  I do believe Dr. Feldman has lots of CMU ties and at least some of the funding came from the Heinz Endowments.

I really have to upgrade my titles.  That really may be the best title in the history of wonk-dom.  I was hoping there was an Iron City reference in that, alas not. 


we ought to send them a bill or something

from a sports forum on NBCSports...
For teams having trouble selling enough non-premium seats to lift the local television blackout, there's a potential oasis on the schedule that virtually guarantees a sellout.

The Pittsburgh Steelers.

The team in question: the Tampa Bay Bucs, which by my geography is not the closest of teams to Western Pennsylvania.   Just cries out for a side payment of some kind.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

From the diasporia - Steel City in Transition

Missed this.  HuffPo and diasporan Dennis Palumbo have this: PITTSBURGH: The Steel City in Transition

Dennis Palumbo seems to have a fascinating career: screenwriter and psychotherapist. Now is he related to A.J.?


Drilling for Tea Leaves

Today's factoid of note...  when it comes to drilling for oil and gas of course, Seeking Alpha points out that the overall rig count is increasing.  No surprise there right?  Pennsylvania is being overrun with new drilling rigs all around.  But find the line:
The number of vertical drilling rigs was up 15 to 527. On the other hand, horizontal/directional rig count (encompassing new drilling technology that has the ability to drill and extract gas from dense rock formations, also known as shale formations) fell by 8 to 1,134. (emphasis added)
What's up with that?


Bookiness of the moment


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

on to other things....

..... such as there is this little matter of a race for governor that people still have not focused on much.  Today we have:

WashPo Chris Cillizza has: Pennsylvania governor's race moves away from Democrats (and other ratings changes)

National NPR interviews the PG's Jim O'Toole: Sestak, Toomey Locked In Tight Pa. Senate Race

Folks will eventually figure there is an election coming up.  The Morning Call's John Micek has the details that Corbett has $7.7 million on hand and Dan has $3.3 million. I think that is enough to clog up all the cable channels between now and November even before we get into some of the other contested races that will have sizable expenditures of their own. I see the news today that Pitt here has just started it's own tv channel.  I could make a fortune if I could design a format for a channel that appealed to just the middle 10% of Pennsylvania voters that really are the center of gravity of all Pennsylvania politics.  You really can ignore 90% of the voters out there, because most of them will have their general election votes decided before the candidates even enter the race. No sense spending money to influence their votes. But the somewhat neurotic median voter in Pennsylvania is a strange animal that votes in ways hard to predict or influence.  Identify them, appeal to them and get their vote and you win hands down.


Memories of the Majestic Star

A short, but insightful, look at the parking bid from a magazine called AI5000?  With Large Bid for Parking Authority, Pittsburgh Pension May Live Another Day.  The title is the story in itself don't you think?  But it also has this quote:
Surprisingly, no bids came from other pension funds or asset owners, which as of late have been very active in the infrastructure space. According to Morgan Stanley’s J. Perry Offutt, who was tapped by the Parking Authority to oversee the deal, pension funds have yet to get into the parking market. “If you came back in a year, you’d likely see the large pension funds bidding on something like this,” he said after the press conference.
So somehow they got a hold of the Morgan Stanley dude pulling the strings.  I don't see anyone else who has gotten an interview?  Someone is getting a big bonus.

There is this immense irony in that.  Some know that one of the big investors via lending and now equity in the Pittsburgh casino is the Detroit municipal pension system. So they thought the casino was a good idea, but didn't even come to play when it came to parking garages.  Interesting.  and no, I don't doubt that if they had the opportunity to redo that decision, they would not have put their money into the casino in the first place.  I think the fact that they had to restructure their debt is the main reason the ratings agencies are now rating the casino's debt as being in a selective default. 

On a side note it does make me ponder a bit....  if Don Barden, who brought the Detroit pension folks into the mix I presume, could have borrowed at today's rates and not been in the middle of the financial markets collapse, he would probably still own the casino today.   Well, maybe not.  From news today up in Gary, IN... Don is not doing so well these days.

and I had never heard of the AI5000 publication before, but it does have this story of note: Scandal in the Marriage of Politics and Investment.


Parking Perambulation

We'll give it a news cycle to digest the $451 million bid for the city's parking assets before we do our own quantitative parsing  It will be interesting to deconstruct how JP Morgan justified that bid, but here are some quick incidental thoughts:

If the city could get such a good deal for the parking assets of the Pittsburgh Parking Authority, then maybe it is an opportune time to consider similar deals for some of the other parking assets in the city.  The Stadium Authority has a few parking lots over there on the North Shore.  There is even this new subway line I gear about that is going to start up and connect them to points Downtown.  That can only add to the value of those lots.  Why not sell/lease them as well if the market is so hot for parking assets right now.

The price makes you wonder about the choice the county/airport authority made recently to NOT monetize the parking out at the airport.   It's not as many spots in total, but I would have thought that per spot the airport spaces would be worth more.  Near capacity lots all the time and the low costs of surface lots (compared to the much costlier vertical lots of the PPA) should make for some pretty valuable spots. I wonder if they feel pressured to re-evaluate that decision.

If that is what they could get for leasing the lots, it really makes you wonder what the dollar amount could be had if they had actually done as I suggested (and as some of the top economists in the city have recommended) that they actually sold the garages outright.  That would have been an interesting number.

The perverse thing in the end about the bid.  The only way it was possible for JP Morgan to consider such a bid was because of the scale and depth of the recession.  The combination of low interest rates along with lack of performance for most other investments were both pretty much necessary conditions for JP Mogran to consider putting that much money on the table.  So the city is saved by economic conditions created by the hedge fund investors who brought down the economy in the first place.

Harrisburg may feel a lot of pressure to reverse itself and monteize their parking assets as well.

I still think the idea of the SEA buying out the lots is feasible.  I see news that the SEA just recently was able to refinance some already low-interest 1999 debt because interest are so low that it made sense to do so.  So they clearly can raise big money in the markets at low interest rates. The debt they just refinanced was mostly in revenue bonds backed by the county's hotel tax.  Awfully similar to revenue bonds that would be backed by parking revenue.

Finally...   what else can we sell?  I'm thinking a bridge or two might be fungible.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Thus fate knocks at the door

Today tells the tale of the parking monetization plan. Like it, hate it, the idea has been fated for some time.

I had predicted they would fetch $381 million for the final offers due today. I didn't catch the details of the modifications of the parking asset lease plan that were made last month that decreased the extension of meter hours, so I will shave my prediction a bit.
So let's call it at $365 +/- 5 million.   Any other last guesses?

AND THE ANSWER IS!!!   $451 million.    Will be interesting parsing that (huge) number and what it means.  But in my earlier post on this in the comments blogger Burgher Jon predicted for the pseudo record a bid of $447.8 million.  I think that wins the door prize. 


Sunday, September 19, 2010

The infomercials just can't be far away

I'm speechless.  This is a real advertisment currently running.  No mania here!  I really don't know where you would begin parsing this.....

Does make me wonder though...... any other 'sure thing' investment offers like this floating around out there?


Saturday, September 18, 2010

zen and the art of municipal finance, or.... bonds, stadiums and parking privatization all in one post

A good article looking in general at the public funding of stadia:  New Stadium Strike out with investors and public. But what really got me thinking was the discussion in there of municipal bonds.

So I have the ultimate solution for the Pittsburgh Parking Asset monetization debate were are now in the middle of.. or will be when we learn the 'best and final price' on Monday. and technically you can still add your own guess to the post where I solicited predictions on what the top bid will be.   I said $381 mil....   probably erring a bit on the high side with that, but I bet we come in more than what the minimum expected is for sure.  Ready for the big idea?

Why not have the Sports and Exhibition Authority (SEA) buy the City of Pittsburgh's parking assets! 

I'm serious.  Think about it.

Some may remember the concern voiced here on how the SEA financed the then-future Consol Arena with variable rate bonds.  There was a moment in time when that appeared like it could wind up being disastrous.  Luckily (a very dubious adjective, but in context it really was for them) the recession kicked in and interest rates plunged.  What few have noticed is that the SEA now is paying virutally zero interest on the bonds that finance the new arena.  Doubt that? You can see exactly what interest rates the SEA is paying on the arena debt. Take a look.  As of last week it was 0.29% annually.   The decimal point is in the right place and the first numeral is not a typo.

Every basis point counts when you are paying debt on 9 figures.  Remember the days when the SEA faced perpetual budget crises that would leak into the news.  Nobody seems to be wondering why those problems have gone quiet.  Big difference between paying 8% interest or more on $300+ million, which they were briefly in late 2008, and the 0.29% they are paying today.

Back to the SEA becoming the master parking manager for the city.   Why not?  Think it's not their mission?  Both the SEA and the Stadium Authority for that matter have plenty of parking assets under their control and deal with even more parking issues as it is right now. The division of labor between all local public authorites are blurred beyond any meaningful distinction when you start to consider the role the SEA has in urban redevelopment in the Hill District, let alone the Stadium Authority's on the North Side.

0.29% interest rates is virtually free money. You would like that for your mortgage I bet.  Must be the current market rate for highly securitized public debt.   What else is going to be highly securitized public debt? I think some large parking garages in a highly constricted Downtown City of Pittsburgh and a undeniably oligopolistic market would fit that bill even better than a sports stadium dependent on payments from a casino with a failing business model. **

Anyone who can borrow at 0.29% annual interest can pay a decent price for a capital asset.  For the SEA to borrow $300 million dollars (a nominal 'purchase' price between the two entities) you are talking less than a $million/year in interest.  I think we could raise that with a big yard sale if nothing else. In fact, absent the cash that could be generated, you could also conceive of a financing package where the SEA buys out the Parking Authority's debt and refinances it at significant net savings on top of everything else that could come out of the deal.

So there you go.  Are there issues in all of that? You bet, but are they any more complicated or potentially worse than where we are at now, or where we are going. Kind of why we pay the lawyers and sundry consultants to sort all such things out.  Lots of side benefits to this.  I am not a fan of our proliferation of public authorities, but you could call this authority consolidation in a sense. 

It makes even more sense when you think about who the parking assets in the city serve.  The Downtown garages if nothing else as well as a lot of the surface lots serve a parking market made up of drivers from outside the city.  Just as the City/County Sports and Exhibition Authority supplanted the old City-only Public Auditorium Authority***, maybe it would make a lot more sense to a a city/county entity look after the major parking assets Downtown.

** Yes, there is the little issue of the undisclosed state guarantee on the arena debt, but lets just skip that whole murky debate for the moment since few like to talk about that either.

*** I'm forgetting all my authority history at the moment... I'll update that sentence later.


Friday, September 17, 2010

Winter comes early

I feel like a broken record.   OK, I am a broken record.  But again, remember all the hype over how much the new gaming industry in Pennsylvania needed table games to survive and how good it will be for all aspects of their business model, for tax revenues and for us?  I thought it was supposed to be a win-win-win scenatio from all that I read when this was all being (briefly) debated. That or the hype when table games actually started here. The predictions had been fulfilled you would have thunk. 

That darn reality.

Well, here is the trend, with the latest update of slots revenues at the two regional casinos.  I'll summarize. For both casinos the revenues are not only not up since table games began, but have shrunk pretty continuously to the point that they are now as low as they were at during some of the worst of winter. At the Rivers Casino slots revenues are now at their lowest since the first week of February.  I believe that was literally snowmageddon week. But who is noticing?  I bet the ratings agencies on their debt, and the Detroit Municipal Pension System, if nobody else. 

So the Labor Day weekend was not of much help and summer is now virtually over. Will fall produce some rebound?  How about winter?

So maybe the casinos have made up some of their gross revenues from table games, but what has it all meant for tax revenues?  Remember the rate of tax on table games is a fraction of tax on slots. So even if there was a 1-1 tradeoff from slots to table games, it might be ok for the casinos, but a big loss for tax revenue.  Anyone want to compare the casinos projected revenue generated for the county with what is budgeted.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Natural Gas Burns the Wind

Call this a new take on Tilting at Windmills.  Worth reading: Wind Energy’s Real Problems: (Hint: It Has Nothing to Do With The Wall Street Journal). One quote:
The other key problem facing wind energy: low natural gas prices. Wind energy competes primarily with natural gas-fired generation. And when gas prices are low, wind energy is at a big disadvantage in the marketplace,
and by the way, natural gas prices are (really) low. There is even a story on how it is impacting nuclear. Makes you wonder what will happen when Saudi starts to focus on develping natural gas, instead of just just flaring it off or virtually giving it away for free. But what is going to be a big economic story is the growing displacement of coal being caused by natural gas. What is that definition of a "disruptive technology"?

See recently the WSJ: Turning Away from Coal,  or BusinessWeek: Natural Gas Erodes Coal’s Share at Power Plants: Energy Markets

But what it means for a lot of towns in the middle of the coal patch.. NYT:  A Europe Kicks Coal, Hungarian Town Feels Pain.

Big huge economic story for the (greater) Pittsburgh region which is the still coal country. Which leads to an interesting topic. In a comprehensive economic impact analysis of Marcellus Shale (and other new shale developments for that matter) do you need to net out the negative economic impacts on the coal industry, and I suppose wind as well?  If that question matters anywhere it is probably here and WV.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cleveburgh watch

Lots of interesting Cleveland stuff going on. 

From Rustwire: Sprawl and the Undoing of Cleveland

For those not paying attention, there is a massive countywide corruption bust going on up in Cuyahoga County, home of our neighbor up the turnpike.  Worth a scan.

PNC bought NatCity we know; Howard Hanna has become the big dog in the real estate yard up there; Giant Eagle is at the parapets and UPMC is attempting to flank with their talks up in Erie.  So what I really want to know is when the big UPMC - Cleveland Clinic slugfest is going to begin:  Gotta be a story in that.

and nothing to do with Cleveland other than I read it in the PD.  But this makes me sure feel like a failure: Defendant pleads guilty in New Jersey in $880 million fraud case.  It's not that some 41 year old dude had created a nearly billion dollar enterprise all by himself, but he did it by convincing people to hand over to him hundreds of millions of dollars to start a wholesale grocery distribution business of all things?!  There is a salesman for you.  No need to concoct some mysterious new 'sure thing', black box or even some fancy schmancy derivative of any kind.  I gotta go to one of those Dale Carnegie classes.


Walking (and biking) art

While we are waiting for those parking bids to come in.  Actually, we likely will not learn anything today. 

We must have some work for this guy:


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Then and now

When it comes to local government, I suppose we can be proud of the fact that our local governments are not suing each other, for whatever that is worth.

Anyway...  Just reading the PG series on what constitutes the power politics of the region, what comes to mind is this old graphic.  The only thing I take away from the series is how amazing it is here just how much the names don't change. Anyone from this graphic 26 years ago sound familiar these days?  The question really is who does not sound familiar?  Granted California might get Jerry Brown back as governor in the near future, but in some places things change after a quarter century. 


LST gone, but not forgotten

From down river, but an interesting twist at the end. Read: LST's absence leaves big shadow by docking site


Monday, September 13, 2010

много Marcellus

Out of Penn State today is a different look at the economics of Marcellus Shale and the debate over a Pennsylvania Severance Tax.  See: Benchmarks for Assessing the Potential Impact of a Natural Gas Severance Tax on the Pennsylvania Economy, by Rose M. Baker and David Passmore

I think that report is a precursor to future work looking more specifically at the economic impact of Marcellus Shale development in Pennsylvania. 

On the topic of economic impact, I have been regularly getting questions about Marcellus Shale economic impacts in the region both from folks in town and those far away.  One recurrent question that usually comes with a presumption has to do with the manufacture of pipes and how Marcellus-induced demand must be impacting steel production here in Pittsburgh. 

So I thought it was interesting when I caught a news item that did indeed reinforce the idea that Marcellus Shale development is indeed impacting pipe demand... First I was going to say  not much of it seems to be from anywhere near here, but the Russian firm being talked about in that story, TMK, has acquired one plant in Ambridge which I am sure is getting a lot of new pipeline orders.  But the profits?  Sure looks like they wind us as rubles.

and this via the NYT is this: Obscure Regulator Hits Brakes on Northeast Shale Drilling Rush. Gotta wonder about "obscure regulators".  What I don't get is why there is a Delaware River Commission, but not an Ohio River Commission.  It's not like we are not shy about creating local governments out here.  I guess we are just opposed to government entities that could be value added.  Lots and lots of river issues that nobody is really addressing in anything other than ad hoc ways. 


Study local, benchmark global

Just a new ranking of not just US, but global, universities:  QS World University Rankings.  The interface allows you to parse the list a bunch of different ways. 


For the (pseudo) record

Yinzerwonks know that the bids for the Pittsburgh Parking Authority leases are about to come in.  The amounts that come in will define politics here for a decade.  My predictive markets have not always worked out so well, or else I would try that here. We'll try something simpler this time around.   Sooooo..... My speculation for what the final bid comes in at is.... ........drumroll please......


I should come up with a prize for whomever comes closest in terms of a $ amount and puts it into the semi-public record here. Note that I mean the final highest bid.  There may be some iterations of the bidding process before the process concludes.  I am only interested in what the final number looks like.  Anyone with a guess, educated or otherwise, speculation, or just the result of a personal random number generator?


At least we're not Johnstown

I was mostly caught by this map which some place called the "Clean Air Task Force" has put together as a composite picture of the nation labeled as a US Picture of Risk from Power Plant Pollution.

Their ranking of risk by metro area is online here. No we are not on top, but let's just say there is a Western Pennsylvania and environs theme to it.  In fact, our friends at the Power of 32 may note that I think all top 10 regions on that list are coterminus or touching the 32 county area centered around Pittsburgh.

the map from here looks like this: 

but hey... awfully clean air in Flagstaff.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Omnimedia Jero

Keeping up with Perry High School (and Pitt) grad Jero; just one more of those native Pittsburghers who have become Japanese cultural icons. (


Saturday, September 11, 2010

H Hour


Friday, September 10, 2010

illiquid assets?

So I was just reading the letter from the city's pension actuary that the PG has online detailing some of the implications of a state takeover of the pension fund.  Forget the debate over whether to lease the pension assets, the letter raises more red flags than there are paragraphs.  Take just this one line:
Some of the assets held by the pension plan maybe illiquid and may not realize full value if sold.
Basic rule of economics: things are worth what someone will pay for them.  So this sentence makes no sense whatsoever to an economist. Then there is this little question of what value the pension fund is placing on these 'illiquid' assets right now if there is no known market for them.  And just why do we need to be left guessing in this letter what these assets are and what their nominal value is in the current pension accounting. The city knows what it's own pension fund owns I like to think.  Assumptions... assumptions...

So that was 3 flags from just that one sentence.  Anyone want to read the rest and come up with questions.  You really think anyone has asked what specific "private equity" investments the pension fund has which are worth more than anyone is willing to pay for them. 


Harrisburg's Incinerator - Pittsburgh's Parking Garages

I was going to label this all as "Harrisburg surrenders, and so do we", but lets make it into a Parking Authority theme since that is in the news as well today.  Note the WSJ has more on the fiscal miasma that is Harrisburg these days: Harrisburg Surrender;Why Pennsylvania's Capital Skipped Its Debt Payment .

What I don't get, and what these Harrisburg stories mention, but don't go into much at all, is that Harrisburg's problems are not because of it's own bad accounting in a sense.  Harrisburg is being caught because of a guarantee it made on a loan that another Pennsylvania government altogether, the Harrisburg Authority, is defaulting on for a garbage incinerator.  Beyond the irony in that, you have to wonder if the folks who worked on Harrisburg's municipal budget even knew about their potential liability from that other loan when they were debating their own recent budgets.  Public authorities were created mostly to create some independent (someone look up the definition of independent) loan authority distinct from municipal governments.  Yet if Harrisburg (the city) is going to go down because of the finances of a public authority, what is the point of having the public authority in the first place?

Shouldn't pick on Harrisburg too much.  Realize that Dauphin County is itself caught up in this.

The bigger question for them is what other liabilities out there might catch them off guard in the future?  What about for other municipalities?  Either explicitly or implicitly, say for example the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority fails completely, is the City of Pittsburgh off the hook for what costs that may incur? 

Isn't the real story in this just how screwed up local government is in Pennsylvania?  Here you have one government about to fail because of another's failure to keep up on a loan.  It's pretty obvious that all of these special authorities and districts obscures government transparency.  Few places are as confused as Pennsylvania with nearly 4,900 distinct government entities of one form or another.  It's not just the large number of municipal governments in Pennsyvlania that sometimes gets talked about (2,562), but all the special districs and public authorities (at least 1,728 per count below, but I say there really are more) and don't forget 515 school districts* each of which has substantial tax-funded budgets.   Is there transparent open governance for all of them?  Most of them?  Any of them?  How can the public even keep track of all the convoluted lines of authority, let alone their financial responsibilities, between all these different types of governement? As Harrisburg shows, even the elected officials can't keep track.

Take for example what is going on Pittsburgh, where the biggest fiscal event in a decade (decades) is about to happen with the lease of Parking Authority assets to most likely a large financial concern not based in Pittsburgh at all.   First, can anyone name the members of the board that run the Pittsburgh Parking Authority?  or just the board chairman?  or know how they are picked?   Does anyone know what the Pittsburgh Parking authority actually does or what it really owns?  Technically speaking, public authorities are creatures of the state, or that is the idea behind having it as a distinct government of it's own and not just a department of city government. Why is it then that the Pittsburgh Parking Authority is going to just hand over all the revenues it receives from the leasing of assets to the City of Pittsburgh?  Almost a metaphysical question in that.  How about this one... what happens to the Pittsburgh Parking Authority and its board once the lease happens?  Do we need to keep it around?  Most likely, but will it become something akin to the Stadium Authority, which is everyone's favorite government, which still exists despite being stadium-less.  Someone really ought to at least change the name of the Stadium Authority to something a bit clearer for the public to understand.  How about the "North Shore Redevelopment and Repatriation Authority (NSRRA)"?

Anyway. For reference here is what I see for the current structure of local government in Pennsylvania as of 2007.

County               66
Municipal         2,562
Special District  1,728

School District     515*
Source: US Census Bureau, Census of Governments

Which by the way adds up to 4,871, more than any other state in the nation.

*School districts might be one less currently with the merger of the Center Area and Monaca school districts northwest of Pittsburgh.  Note there are 67 counties, but you don't want to double count Philadelphia, so it gets counted in the official census stats as a municipality.  If the counts seem high to you, realize there are probably governments and school districts you are completely unaware of yet have some distinct governance. Everything from the City of Pittsburgh's Equipment Leasing Authority of all things to school intermediate units.


Thursday, September 09, 2010

Why regionalism is so hard - redux

Without additional comment:

Just about a decade ago: Steel City Synthesis, Knitting Pittsburgh Together

Today: Regional Enterprise Tower loses big tenant


Population gain by other means

I don't think this was the intended focus of a story in the CP yesterday about the capacity of the state correctional institution, formerly known as the Western Penitentiary, here in Pittsburgh (see: Empty Bars, by Matt Stroud), but there is a demographic story in there as well.

Remember the SCI Pittsburgh facility was shut down over the last decade, an event that caused a minor amount of hand wringing at the time, mostly I think because of the impending job loss associated with the closing.  Then with prison overcrowding in Pennsylvania it was reopened. According to the story it now has 1,600 residents. There have been news stories over population movements of a few thousand people here or there.

We just had a census right?  and some don't realize this, but prisoners generally get counted where they are incarcerated.  All 1,600 of those folks are for census people-counting purposes, residents of the city of Pittsburgh.. as are the inmates at the county jail for that matter.  I don't have an official number right now, but the county jail has been near its 2,500 capacity for years.  So between the two institutions you are talking over 4K people, which in itself is over 1% of the city population. It's enough to matter to things like population trends, tax collection, school enrollment, etc.

Implications.   These folks all count for redistricting as well. 1% may not be a lot, but it will impact some local political borders a lot.  Those folks all count for local districts as well.  So prisoners could easily represent several percent of a state general assembly district. The co-located 2,500 county jail inmates will make up roughtly 8% of a city council district after the next redistricting.  They may not vote (much..  most are indeed legally allowed to vote), but they count when it comes to drawing district boundaries. Whether anyone has ever formally or informally campaigned inside one of these institutions... I dunno?


Daily Ranking - top college towns

In a benchmarking of midisized metros we are ranked 6th on a college destinations index. I could quibble with some of the metrics, but it has compiled a lot of different stats worth looking at.  Note where they have us as quantified and ranked for entrepreneurial activity compared to others.  Might as well as be zero.  Interesting that despite that we did pretty well.  They rank large metros separately and among 'mid sized' metros they have ranked we are actually the largest.  Also note we are far from last when it comes to 'earnings potential' fwiw.

There you go. 


Wednesday, September 08, 2010

alternative fuels ambiguity

Some news that Old Braddock gas station may be converted to pump 'biofuels' which will include a couple new fuel tanks, one of which will "hold pure plant oil".  The company working on this, Fossil Free Fuels, has been toiling away in Braddock for years to build a business centered around the conversion of vechicles to veggie power.  Cool stuff, though I am obliged to point out the long standing Pitt veggie-mobile... not that I have heard much on it in some time.

However and I really really hate to point this out, but there remains a bit of ambiguity in the law as to just whether veggie-powered cars of any kind are... well...  street-legal.  Maybe it's just ambiguity in the law, but you can read the relevant legalese on the EPA's web site.  We'll chalk it up to the bureaucrats not catching up to the rest of us, but still... 

I was curious on the state program the article said was going to help the veggie-stations along, Pennsylvania's Alternative Fuels Incentive Grant Program (AFIG).  The program specifies some of the potential uses of the grant including as a  "Nitrogen Tire Inflation System Grant".  There's some debate over whether nitrogen in tires helps out fuel efficiency... but it reminds me of another idea that few doubt could improve auto efficiency which would be to keep your tires property inflated.  Reminds me of one of those simple ideas that politicians come up with occassionally that actually make sense and a long ago idea to require gas stations to provide free air.  You know it's actually kind of hard these days to find a working air pump at a gas station whether free or not.  Must be someone in Harrisburg looking for an issue to champion?  No 'air' constituency?


Guts of a Hospital

Ever wonder what is inside the walls of a hospital.  Here is all that is left of the old Children's Hospital.  You should be able to click on the pic and zoom in to see the wires hanging from everywhere.  I wonder how many generations of legacy IT are in all of that.  First I thought... if there were that many wires in the old building, how much wiring was built into the new building. Of course, the new building probably has less because it was designed to be wired..  didn't need to have all that IT backfitted into the old building which is what made the mess.  Token Ring anyone?

The real question from that picture...  so what is going on that site next? Prime Oakland office space with Oakland reportedly at near 100% office utilization.


Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Messages in the ether?

NPR's Marketplace Morning <s>Edition</s> Report (which I don't think plays here and is not the same show as the Marketplace which plays in the evening) had this piece on Pittsburgh:  Google in Pittsburgh signals tech burst with this lead in:

Google is expanding and hiring. That's hardly worth noting, but before you punch up your resume and start looking for an apartment in Boston or San Jose you should know that the expansion is in Pittsburgh.
Which got me wondering.. who won the Google fibre contest?  As best I can tell, nobody yet.  I think they have said they will choose by the end of the year.


Revenue sharing by other means

As of right now, the Buffalo Bills have only sold out two games this season: their home opener and their game against the Steelers.  So says their web page.

No reason.  Just saying.  Do they never get to watch their home games on tv in Buffalo?


How do you spell ARBITRAGE?

So here are some headlines from way out west.   In the Vindy: Youngstown's new contract for natural gas drops price below $6.

or I like this news item out of Akron: Betty's out to beat rate for last year. Can you?  Sounds like Betty has several choices to choose from there in Akron.  Some down to $5.99mcf.

Both relate to story I mentioned last week out of Cleveland: Natural gas price war breaking out in Ohio

Looking for that price war myself and what great deals I myself would be getting for natural gas here in the great state of Pennsylvania... home to all the new Marcellus Shale generated supply that is clearly benefiting the consumers in Ohio it seems. Just a coincidence I suppose, but I just now realized I received my own version of a natural gas rebate in the mail recently.  Looking at the details I see that one natural gas provider is indeed offering me a great deal. An 'End of Summer Natural Gas sale' it says. Cool beans!  What big discount am I going to be offered for the coming year?  Looks like I can keep my current price ($8.99mcf)* for the whole next year guaranteed. So not just through heating season, but 12 months of savings.  A great deal that prevents me from having to pay those 'winter' prices which the solicitation says "always go up".  Isn't it a great thing this natural gas competition in Pennsylvania?  I am thankful the gas company is looking after my well being and offering such sage investment advice.. and it is investment advice after all isn't it?

*Update: You know... trying and failing at humor I may be.. but it's worse than it seems.  The special 'summer' price I am being offered is actually higher than I am paying now.  By a fair bit even. 

So I would like to publicly thank them for offering such a good deal.   Then I am calling Betty.


Monday, September 06, 2010

Battleship sized lines

Battleship sized lines today at the LST visiting Pittsburgh. I wonder what the ship's biggest daily visitor count has ever been?   At 10am the line stretched as in the pic below.  Imagine if they came during the regatta? Maybe next year?

Something to think about.  If you took just the 269 LST's built in Pittsburgh and lined them up stem to stern, you would get a line of ships that stretched 16 continuous miles.


Saturday, September 04, 2010

Random Tailings

Just some random tailings, you should be out riding a bike anyway. Which, by the way, there is a new video to inspire you.

Boston Globe: How to shrink a city, Not every great metropolis is going to make a comeback. Planners consider some radical ways to embrace decline.

I hate to point out, but some think we are pretty bad drivers. Could be caused by the Pittsburgh Left, or my favorite t-shirt?

The LATimes suggests Pittsburgh has the best baseball fans.   They may have a point.

We are about to get a natural experiment in how connected Pennsylvania is as a state. Does the new casino opening in Philadelphia impact revenues here, or doesn't it? We'll see. 

And of course Marcellus....   From Platts: More US LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) projects scrapped as economics become less favorable.

From the Cleveland Plain-Dealer: Natural gas price war breaking out in Ohio.  Why is natural gas competition in Pennsylvania a bit less....  efficient?.... for lack of a better word.
There is a certain Yin and Yang to this pair of stories.  From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: How fracking works: Sand and water go in; natural gas comes out (sounds like making pie?), Fortune had this yesterday: 'Fracking' yields fuel, fear in Northeast.  More from Fort Worth: The Barnett Shale search for facts on fracking.  and CBS News is piling on as well: A Burning Debate Over Natural Gas Drilling

While some may be interested in this because of the environmental issues... from North Dakota a 'fracking' related story from just the other day: Texas company working to plug leaking ND oil well.  But it has another angle.  It's about all the drilling going on in North Dakota because Hydraulic Fracturing is being used to drill for oil, not natural gas.  At a few sites in PA I believe testing to do the same is going on. Ponder that a bit.  Col. Drake is going to rise from his grave.  Bring back the Pittsburgh Oil Exchange.  We could modernize it, the Pittsburgh Energy Exchange?

and if you didn't catch it, along with all the other foreign invesment, more local players selling out. This time to the Japanese.

and for something completely different, here is the quote of the week.  You will have to click through to see the source and context, but why do I get a feeling Dave F. is negotiating a reality TV deal?


Friday, September 03, 2010

Labor, LSTs, Ships and more

Just in honor of the LST being in town and Labor Day, I thought the image on the left was pretty cool. People do not talk about it much, but it was here in Pittsburgh we did in fact build the Navy's first iron-hulled ship.  History buffs may think the first iron-hulled warships were the Monitor and/or Merrimack which dueled in the Civil War.  In fact it was in a Pittsburgh foundry that the USS Michigan was built and assembled in 1843 and then taken apart to be shipped up to Erie where it would be put back together and sail on the great lakes for an amazing 80 some years.  There is Pittsburgh workmanship for you, though the fresh water helped out a bit I am sure in keeping the ship active so long. 

For labor day tough..  I couldn't quickly find an 'official' list of the largest Labor Day parades, but that is how Pittsburgh's is described typically.  Ironic a bit since few places have seen such large declines in union membership among workers and it really has been a long time since we were anything above average in terms of unionization of private sector workers. If it is a 'union' town it is because of the retirees and their families and not a reflection of the current state of the labor force here.

To confuse the issue even more... Here is something I have never heard anyone talk about, but it seems there is a mild resurgence in organized labor in town.  of if that is a stretch, a long term decline seems to have abated.  Below is what I get (some my past compilation, and some from and the latest data shows another small, but measurable, tick up.  The nadir in private sector unionization looks to have been around 2003 and it sure seemed the trend was going to to put us below 10% going forward.  Didn't happen. Hard to say from the data whether trend up will continue, but going back 30 years, what had been a clear decline seems to have clearly abated over the last decade.  Just fyi.


Harrisburg Bankrupt Redux

Harrisburg (little H) is really really passing on making some required bond payments.  That would be called a default.  Seeking Alpha asks: Will Defaulted Harrisburg Bonds Cause a Domino Redemption Effect?  Not exactly the same question I once asked, but similar.  Still a question for Pennsylvania.

The issue of problems in municipal bond insurance markets is arcane if important stuff. This all is just good timing for a post I was already writing on a new book by one of the few people to poke at the house of cards otherwise known as municipal bond insurance market.  I have not had time to get to it yet, but finance and policy wonks will want to read the book on Bill Ackman: Confidence Game: How a Hedge Fund Manager Called Wall Street's Bluff (if you really just want the crib notes, read this from Bloomberg, but it you want to see where it all started you can read Ackman's white paper).


Cleveburgh watch: among the best places to find a job is.... wait, don't answer yet...

I am not sure how hard they had to look to find this, but the Plain Dealer has found themselves a positive economic list: Greater Cleveland is a great place to find a job -- really.  The list they found where they outrank us (they are 14, we're 18) is a job search website of some kind called JUJU.  It is some metric of of "unemployed people per advertised job". 

Rigged I say.  Although I would point out we look to have the biggest impovement on that particular benchmark over the last month, for whatever that is worth.


Thursday, September 02, 2010

But for Bellevue's Bakery

I read Jonathan's piece in the PG on Bellevue's Bakery.

Reminds me of several things...  dare I mention cupcakes?  But in that old post I did put together a benchmarking of bakeries per capita across the US.   I don't think newer data is out just yet to update that graphic, but I will have to add that to the to do list when it comes out. Funny though.  In a world where people have studied everything, go to google and plug in "Bakeries per capita" and  you don't get much.  Lots of places claiming to be the bakery capital of the world, but not much data to back those claims up wherever.

Semi-seriously though, I do suspect that the bakeries among us are a dwindling breed.  Neighborhood bakeries used to be far more the norm than today.  Probably because of all the prepackaged ho-ho's we consume if nothing else.  

Anyway, this is what I came up with a few years ago:

I guess I need to get my colleague Bob to map all the bakeries in town. In a perfect data world I would map out the changes in bakeries over time. 


Coal vs. Gas

Not quite Alien vs. Predator I know... but worth a read...  a big story that we really are in the middle of.


Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Do not as I do

Some great pointers both from Otis White:

Interestingly, Chicago may not even follow its own parking privatization example: In the Chicago Tribune:  Boxed in by parking deal? Meter leasing metrics may give aldermen pause as Daley makes new privatization push

and get this... I just don't have the heart to add snark to this one from the Inky: Philadelphia to host happy hour to woo bloggers.  The invite is from the Philly Department of Revenue no less.  I'm imagining Scott K. as host/ bartender down at the Common Plea.


Watch out for that monkey's fist

The Goat Locker* hooks me up.   LST arriving Port of Pittsburgh this AM.  My Coast Guard brethren sure are not letting anyone near it on the water. 

* Don't ask... You either know or you don't.  :-)


Cost per firefighter

OK.. I think someone other than me ought to do the division for this.  From San Diego a group has done some benchmarking of the costs per city firefighter among large American cities.  Not being a 'large' American city, we were not included in their benchmarking.  But let's say we were included, where would we fall on their list?  For 2010 the city of Pittsburgh budget shows total expendures for the Bureau of Fire of $52 million and 653 firefighters on the rolls. Take the number you get and place it on the ranking they have there.  Anyone?