Thursday, September 08, 2011


So it might just be my own distractions, but I really have not paid all that much attention to the referendum on the ballot in the City of Pittsburgh in the fall election.  I really do wonder how many City of Pittsburgh residents know before going in there is a tax referendum they will be asked about.... or whether they will decide on the fly inside the booth (standing before the screen) how they will vote on it?  I'd love to do a survey on that. 

If passed it will raise the property tax a smidge to bring in more money that will be dedicated to the Carnegie Library.  To be honest, I am a big fan of libraries... who isn't I suppose, and I will be the first to point out the positive economic impacts I think they have... far more than most ever quantify.  Still, that does not presuppose there is one best way to fund them.

It is a bit odd in that we supposedly had this debate already..   a decade (or two) ago.  The entire existence of the Regional Asset District (a moniker I dislike since it really is just an Allegheny County construct, no greater 'region' involved...  down, Briem, down. Do...not...mention...RRI....) was to raise the sales tax by a percentage point to fund a bunch of entities thought to serve citizens beyond.  Before the RAD, it was the city of Pittsburgh that was on the hook for a lot of the subsidies received by things like the Pittsburgh Zoo, Carnegie Library and even Phipps I do believe.   So in a sense the referendum is going back on a concept that the city fought long and hard to move away from.  It was a concept that had been worked on for years, if not decades before

The RAD is a topic unto itself.  We could talk about why it does not have more money for libraries.. which would bring us directly to the funding it provides for a few stadia in town.. something which was not part of the debate when studied prior to its inception.  Hold that thought for another time.  Also hold the really interesting question I want to come back to some day.  Remember (or a few here might remember) all the noise when the RAD was being debated about how retail businesses would 'flee' Allegheny County because of how competitive it would be against the neighboring counties which did not have the extra 1% sales tax.  Did that happen?  Did it happen in part?  It was once the central economic debate of the land.  How has the retail biz fared in Allegheny County over the last decade?  Again, we will come back to that.

Back to the library tax.. and whether or not there is a lot of public fervor for it or against it is an interesing political dynamic.  One reason this may not have the biggest public footprint may have to do with the nature of property valuation within the city.  Who would really wind up paying the marginal higher property tax.  Few taxes are as uneven as the property tax collected within the city of Pittsburgh.  It goes beyond simple income stratification and even proportional to income the incidence of the property tax varies widely by neighborhood.

Here is something we put up last year.  Below is the actual property taxes collected by city neighborhood.  There is an interactive version online as well if you want to study some of the smaller bubbles.   What you see is first, the biggest single source of property tax revenues for the city come from Downtown, which is almost entirely commercial property.  A lot of the newer residential property is mostly being abated anyway for now at least.   Beyond that, most property tax collected is concentrated in just a handful of the 90 defined city neighborhoods.   Folks in neighborhoods with the lowest values may not really notice.  Neighborhoods with large percentages of their properties delinquent or otherwise not paying their property taxes probably have a lot of other issues that would displace much interest in whatever $$ this new tax will raise their bills. The net effect is that those that do vote will essentially be voing for whether others will pay a tax, not them.  Not all that abnormal in a sense, but like many things Pittsburgh can be an extreme case given our circumstances. 

Estimated Effective Property Tax Collection by City of Pittsburgh Neighborhood


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The RAD provides the library with significant dollars. Whether it is enough or not is another questions. Anything becomes "not enough" if you spend more than you take in. Mark this down though - even if the tax passes libraries will close.

Thursday, September 08, 2011 3:14:00 PM  
Anonymous said...

great blog it's wonderful.

Friday, March 16, 2012 4:08:00 AM  

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