What was that on the radio? "Get Rich or Die Tryin'"?
Close your eyes and it's like 2004 all over again around Pittsburgh city government. The mayor is warning about dire finances while battling city council, city fiscal oversight boards are in the balance, and there's the whiff of politics all over everything, from Front Street to Grant Street.
Poor Tom Murphy. The divinity-student-turned-three-term-mayor has built a new career as an urban reincarnation evangelist, only to get pummelled on Pgh's financial woes during a recent talk to the city council of Galveston, Texas. Here's the Galveston Daily News (via a heads-up from Chris Briem):
GALVESTON — Mayor Joe Jaworski accused Councilwoman Elizabeth Beeton of “character assassination” during Thursday’s workshop session after she laid into former Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy by citing media reports of his fiscal leadership.
She incurred Jaworski’s ire by reading an account that suggested Murphy had run up a huge budget deficit at Pittsburgh city hall.
The spat came at the end of an hourlong session in which former mayoral candidate Betty Massey introduced Murphy and outlined how she and Jaworski had spent the past few months exploring the possibility of ending decades of talk, followed by inaction on cohesive redevelopment of the island.
Murphy had just given a presentation extolling the virtue of managing urban redevelopment through an authority, which some have come to call a revitalization authority, set up outside city hall rather than the city government.
Beeton’s comments came as she agreed with Councilman Steve Greenberg, who had said he was not in favor of “forming another authority that is not responsible to the city manager.”
Murphy said Beeton and Greenberg were good examples of people for whom a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. He said the account referred to his campaign to get Pittsburgh out from under an unfair state funding regime.
Jaworski, who had invited Murphy to Galveston, said he was offended by Beeton’s behavior, as did Councilwoman Dianna Puccetti.
“I don’t understand why you’re so destructive,” Puccetti said. “My blood pressure is so high right now, I need some chocolate.”
State government created the Pittsburgh's fiscal oversight board in 2004, the same year that a young councilman named Ravenstahl initially balked at its Act 47 recovery plan, before the state came through with a package of new tax revenues late in the year. The Intergovermental Cooperation Authority was one of the prices extracted by Republicans -- who hadn't had a say in Pgh government since the Depression -- for the financial support, and it looks like the politics of '04 could raise their head again next year.
The conservative Allegheny Institute for Public Policy released a study today noting that under a sunset provision in the 2004 bailout bill, the ICA will expire next year unless it reapproved by the Legislature (and whomever Tom Corbett appoints as development director). The institute is usually all for taking the wrecking ball to high-spending public bodies, but not this one: "In light of the fact that Pittsburgh's financial difficulties will not be going away anytime soon there is an urgent need to address the future of the Authority," their brief says.
The institute likes the ICA's ability to keep a lid on taxes and keep a check on the Rendell-annointed Act 47 recovery team, and wants the board extended another five years. But nowhere does it mention the authority's budget, which (I think, since I can't find it among the budget documents on the ICA's website) is supposed to be $975,000 next year. Or nearly $6 million if it is given new life through 2016. And what expertise or guidance is it providing, exactly?
Again, we've heard this song and dance somewhere before. What was it that incoming Gov. Corbett regularly railed about on the campaign trail this year? Oh yes, the "reckless spending" in Harrisburg.
Photo: Tom Murphy in 2004. Martha Rial/Post-Gazette.