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Suburban Senator Seeks City Subsidy

Battles business bullheadedness, Murphy miscommunication

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State senators and big business representatives met Sept. 19 and agreed on one thing: A City of Pittsburgh bankruptcy would be bad.

Key business leaders continue to oppose Mayor Tom Murphy's proposed new taxes (see "Political Footballs," page 19). "Some in the business community say we need mergers and consolidations" between city and Allegheny County departments before any consideration is given to new taxes, says state Sen. Jane Orie. The CEO types also want the state to create an oversight board that would "have the power to ensure that these mergers and consolidations are done," Orie says. "They just want to hold their ground until they see some things happen."

The city may not be able to wait long. "Come November, the City of Pittsburgh will be bankrupt," Orie says. "Even if you put an oversight board in place, and they say, merge this with this, those savings won't occur fast enough. ... Can we get a stopgap measure in place to keep the City of Pittsburgh from going bankrupt?" She says she isn't sure what the state can do -- there's been talk of a $12 million infusion to the pension account -- but hopes to float a proposal of some kind within a few weeks.

Orie is a McCandless Republican, but has emerged as the Democrat-led city's would-be savior. She's got three things going for her: She's one of the few local legislators who's a member of the General Assembly's majority party, she's ambitious, and she's neither a Murphy pal nor enemy. Democratic senators Jack Wagner of Beechview and Jim Ferlo of Highland Park lean toward the latter camp.

Orie echoes other legislators' frustration with their inability to get consistent budget numbers from the Murphy administration. "All of us have gotten different figures" regarding the city's shortfall and the extent of possible savings, she says. "Give us an accurate accounting of what your plan is!" Orie says she may push for a meeting between legislators and Murphy administration members within days.

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