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Web Site Wants YOU to Solve the City Budget Crisis

The new pghtownhall.com is a wonk's delight

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Mayor Tom Murphy has so far failed. Gov. Ed Rendell has barely tried. Corporate chieftains have been rebuffed. So it's up to you to solve the City of Pittsburgh's $60 million budget deficit and avert bankruptcy!

That's the idea behind the Pittsburgh Policy Issues Forum, an online "town hall" put together by Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz School and backed by City Councilor Bill Peduto. Go to www.pghtownhall.com and click on Discussion Forums and you get the opportunity to chime in on the city's taxes, spending, debt and services. There's also a library of thousands of pages of reports on the city's budget -- enough to make the most hardened Web surfer bug-eyed.

Murphy's plan for new taxes, Rendell's suggestions and a proposal floated by the business-oriented Allegheny Conference on Community Development have so far gone nowhere in the state legislature, which must approve any new levies. One problem, says Peduto, is that there's been little effort to involve the public. "The three ingredients that are needed are communication, compromise and courage," says Peduto. "There has been public input on proposals that have been put out there, but there hasn't been public input on creating a proposal." The Web site, he says, starts the search for solutions over again, with you.

Whether Murphy will take the public's suggestions to heart remains to be seen. If the first posting is any indication, he might be none too pleased with the input. "[T]he City should have long since taken the steps necessary to tame its budget," wrote the anonymous poster. "Now that [Murphy] is a lame duck (we hope), perhaps he will do the right thing, and bite the bullet."

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