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Proposed oversight panel for the city could be a partisan power play

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The likely state takeover of City of Pittsburgh finances has some Democrats worried -- and has Republicans denying that they're engaged in a power grab.

 

Within days General Assembly Republicans are expected to introduce legislation that creates an oversight board with virtual veto power over the budgets of the city and its quasi-independent authorities. The board would include members appointed by the House Republicans, House Democrats, Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats. Those four might choose a fifth, or that pick might go to the governor.

 

The board would be expected to urge the consolidation of many city and Allegheny County functions, says state Sen. Jane Orie, a McCandless Republican who has spearheaded the save-the-city effort since Democratic Mayor Tom Murphy's new tax proposals flopped. "You can really save a lot of money with these mergers and consolidations," Orie says.

 

Some Democrats are skeptical. "I'm going to be very cautious about whatever comes out of Sen. Orie's [process], that it doesn't disempower the city residents," says Rep. Don Walko, of Brighton Heights.

 

And City Controller Tom Flaherty, who chairs the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, fears a "hijacking of the city" by corporate interests and Republicans. "They are going to use it as a power grab and push their agenda even more," Flaherty says. "They want to come in and control the City of Pittsburgh, because that's where the crown jewels are."

 

Orie says she isn't in this for partisan political gain -- though some fellow GOP members think she should be. "Trust me, I have many Republicans saying this is our chance," she says. "I'm not playing it for politics. ... I don't want the City of Pittsburgh to go bankrupt in any way, shape or form, even though people say it would be a victory for the Republicans."

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