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City Budget, From Soup to Nuts

looks to whip up chicken soup for the (barely) solvent

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Six weeks into the year, the City of Pittsburgh's 2004 budgetary stew seems increasingly a case of too many cooks competing for the ladle.

 

Cook 1: On Feb. 4, Councilor Sala Udin proposed rolling back the parking tax, which had jumped just three days earlier from 31 percent to 50 percent. Though Downtown business interests have hounded council for weeks about the tax hike, most of council seemed dismissive, until ...

 

Cook 2: Councilor Luke Ravenstahl proposed a temporary rollback to 36 percent, effective March 1. The parking tax would jump back to 50 percent on July 1 if the state didn't allow the city to levy new taxes. To replace lost revenue, council would shift $3 million from a development fund. The measure passed 6-3, though several councilors privately conceded that the shift was an irresponsible one-time fix designed to get the Downtown crowd off their backs and on to the posterior of ...

 

Cook 3: Mayor Tom Murphy vowed to veto Ravenstahl's fix, saying the proposed development fund raid was illegal. He said if council overrides his veto, he'd rather lay off workers than take the development money. As if that weren't enough, along came ...

 

Cook 4: The state House on Feb. 4 voted unanimously to create a bipartisan, five-member oversight board, charged with finding a fix for the city's chronic budget gap. Passage in the Senate was said to be imminent, and Gov. Ed Rendell was expected to sign the measure. The oversight board's powers, however, seem to overlap with ...

 

Cook 5: Local law firm Eckert Seamans and consultant Public Financial Management of Philadelphia met with Murphy and councilors on Feb. 2. They are charged with crafting a plan to get the city out of distressed status. It's unclear whether they would work alongside, or be replaced by, an oversight board. Both entities are expected to review plans floated by ...

 

Cooks 6 and 7: Senators Jack Wagner of Beechview and Jim Ferlo of Highland Park arrived in Council Chambers Feb. 5 with no fewer than six options for reforming the city's tax structure. Sen. Jay Costa of Forest Hills and Reps Don Walko of Brighton Heights and Dan Frankel of Squirrel Hill also attended, but mercifully stayed clear of the proposal-fest. None of the seven invited Republican legislators, whose party controls the General Assembly, showed. Councilors said the GOP legislators were saving their recipes for a Feb. 12 powwow on city-county cooperation before Allegheny County Council -- which could lead to even more jockeying for the salt and pepper. 

 

Of course, there's a fine line between a food fight and a tossed salad. City residents may have to wait a while to see which one they're getting.

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