Mayor Ravenstahl brought in a sharp bunch of lieutenants this morning to meet with the PG editorial board. The group of five made their case for the recommendations in the Act 47 report. That's the plan Pittsburgh needs to keep functioning under the effective rudder of state oversight. Under the five-year plan developed by the state's Act 47 recovery team, the city must follow a blueprint for keeping spending under control (which includes a tight lid on employee compensation) and making solid payments to reduce its pension debt. In exchange for that, the state gives the city a certain amount of financial aid and other help to support its budget.
City Council, for its own perplexing reasons, is resisting the new five-year plan, which must be adopted by June 30 to satisfy the state. Another reason to meet this deadline is that the plan's limits on employee pay and benefits (which the city budget needs if it's going to stay balanced) would become binding on an arbiter if the coming contract talks with city unions end up in arbitration. Or so city finance chief Scott Kunka said.
Some council members seem to be carrying water for the unions and want to see better pay, which could wreck the budget. The mayor makes a compelling case that, while he'd like to give city workers more money, there are modest improvements for them in the Act 47 plan. Besides, the city needs the other elements of the plan to stay afloat without raising property or wage taxes on city dwellers. One provision, which draws a big chunk of revenue from suburbanites, is a hike in the annual $52 local services tax to $144.
Why council would jeopardize the plan when the city is hardly out of the financial woods is hard to understand. It also doesn't seem to have an alternative. If council doesn't pass an effective plan by the end of the month, it may be impossible for the city to avoid financial disaster.