The Republican rule that has more or less gripped Allegheny County for eight years ends in a month, but the GOP appears likely to go down swinging. At issue are competing budgets that highlight the challenges Democrats will face when they become lords of the Courthouse in January.
Republican Allegheny County Executive Jim Roddey presented a proposed 2004 operating budget of $643 million on Sept. 23. It includes a $23-per-homeowner tax cut that he said the county could afford only by slashing the budgets of the independently elected row officers -- nearly all of whom are Democrats -- by $6.5 million. Some of the row offices were slated for cuts of 25 to 46 percent.
County Council Democrats responded Nov. 18 with a $656 million budget that cuts row offices -- and most other departments -- by just 3 percent. Despite the added spending compared to Roddey's budget, the tax cut is still included. And two Democratic officials -- Register of Wills-elect Eileen Wagner and Sheriff Pete DeFazio -- are lobbying against even the 3 percent cuts. Council wants to budget $12.9 million for the sheriff, but Assistant Chief Deputy Hank Pulkowski came to a budget committee meeting Nov. 25 asking for much more. "Our bottom line is $14,299,000," Pulkowski said.
On Nov. 26, Roddey announced he'd veto the Democratic budget as it now stands, protesting details of the sheriff's funding and a $2.1 million "contingency fund" Dems want to use to pay severance to people they plan to terminate next year. If Roddey vetoes some or all of the budget, it's nearly certain that council's six Republicans will vote to sustain the veto.
In January, Dem Dan Onorato replaces Roddey, and he and council's Democratic majority can reopen the budget and make any changes they like. Then Onorato will have to wrestle with the sheriff and other row officers, if he's going to deliver on additional tax cuts he promised on the campaign trail.