Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Morris Buttermaker reporting

Ponder for a moment a number of stories over the last month.

For years, seemingly a decade at least, the Port Authority was on the verge of an existential budgetary meltdown and continued to make "draconian cuts" just a couple years ago. The word of late is that the very same organization has a "solid financial future." We are talking about the same Port Authority right?

The school district even last month was pushing a story the media was reporting of a potential $18 million dollar deficit this year, yet the final count was a $20+ million surplus. Problems deferred, despite again a fairly dire message oft repeated. That is quite a swing in expectations over just a month.

Also perpetually on the verge of a budgetary calamity, the Carnegie Library is reporting calm waters with new revenues from a library tax (a library tax exempt from anti-windfall provisions governments must abide by) and gambling revenues generated by table games dedicated to the library have all worked in some form to put the on a "solid financial footing."

The city of Pittsburgh... seriously once a financial basket case is now arguing over when to leave Act 47 oversight. Certainly an incredibly different public debate from just over a decade ago. And while I am not a fan of the accounting many know, the city is happy to tout how much better funded it pension system is now than just a few years ago.

Add in the demographic story, remember when the modal story was that out of Forbes decrying how "Pittsburgh is A Pit for singles," a sentiment that would be buttressed by our own opeds even. The local punditry could not be convinced there was any positive story to tell. Even the latest news has flat population growth, but again there are more people moving into the Pittsburgh region than are moving out. Our legacy of demographic decline is a long-lasting legacy of how dire the population loss was a generation ago.

And the Pirates are beginning the season with a fan base which knows there is this thing called a post-season. Nuff said.

Taken in isolation, each of those examples is a feel good story in itself, but taken collectively they really tell a different story. Now the modal media coverage of Pittsburgh is about as hagiographic as it can get. Writers of all ilk are now struggling to write the good news Pittsburgh story fast enough. For those with any memory of how Pittsburgh was ever portrayed by the greater world in the past, it's like some form of the twilight zone.

Somehow over the last 5 years or so, everything has been fixed. Some problems deemed utterly intractable just a few years ago have faded away with only passing notice. I really need a dose of unctuous bafflegab to refill the nabob deficit I am feeling. I also am appreciating how many in the public may discount the most dire or warnings some of us repeat. It seems things will all work themselves out. The first question is whether they really did, and if so, did we learn the right lessons? So no worries, good news or bad, plenty of fodder here.

And since it is April 1, I can't resist adding that our savior is not, nor ever was, the cupcake. Don't get me wrong, plenty of problems out there. But with the sun, we will get to them another day.


Anonymous BrianTH said...

Solving a couple mysteries:

1) Steve Bland's administration had done a lot of work to put PAT in pretty good shape, and then the state cut its funding and sent it back into crisis mode. A lot of people simply couldn't or wouldn't believe that was the story ("same old PAT and those damn unions" was apparently a more popular explanation), but then the state restored PAT's funding, secured it with a new transportation bill, and voila--PAT is back out of crisis mode.

2) Despite overshooting with millage reductions, the City and PPS are both benefiting financially from the rapidly rising number of higher-income residents (who are replacing lower-income residents dying or migrating to retirement areas, leading to a more or less flat overall population). Again, this is a story a lot of people still have trouble believing, but it will keep showing up in terms of things like unexpectedly large income tax and transfer tax revenues, since I suspect it will be a long time, if ever, before people start making long-range budgets on the assumption the City's tax base will be growing at such rates.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014 7:19:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does this mean I can't complain about poor air service anymore?

Wednesday, April 02, 2014 7:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Michael Lamb said...

Another factor on the increased wage tax collections at PPS and in the City is the impact of Act 32. It is not just higher wages. We are doing a better job with the centralized tax collection and the increased withholding requirements.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014 2:20:00 PM  
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