Monday, July 23, 2007

Property Tax Reform Reform

Yet another article in this morning's Post Gazette on property tax reform. Our state legislature is muttering once again about taking up the issue. This is after Gov. Rendell promised to ELIMINATE the school portion of our property taxes if his gambling buddies were allowed to do business in the state. We allowed them in, Rendell lied once again, and gambling monies will now be shuffled to many of Rendell's other buddies instead of the relief he promised. So what else is new? Homeowners (especially seniors) will be screwed once again and "Bait & Switch" Rendell just keeps smiling.

Since reform of "Property Tax Reform" will be required before any meaningful reform takes place, the Pist-Gazette has sent the following email to Bill DeWeese, Keith McCall, Samuel Rohrer and every other legislator in Allegheny County. Maybe if they hear from thousands of us, they might listen. Legislator email addresses can be easily found here.

"Read in this morning's Post Gazette where you guys "might" take up property tax reform in the fall. As you must know property taxes are one of THE two main problems in PA, the other being our uncompetitive and downright antagonistic mindset toward private sector business.

As for property tax reform, you MUST do it. And if it is anything short of eliminating property tax on primary residences or eliminating the school portion completely, taxpayers MUST have referendum abilities in regards to the school taxes.

You know why this is. I won't trouble you with the obvious. Pennsylvania's per student spending is in the top 10 in the nation, its scores are in the bottom 10, etc., etc., etc.

Do not mistake my boring "etc's" as a lack of passion on this issue. There is a level of outrage in the electorate that I'm sure you'll concede is unprecedented in recent times. Much of the outrage is over runaway taxes coupled with "services" that are laughable. 50 legislators got the boot last time around, but don't for a moment think this has mollified the citizenry.

I'm a real estate agent. I live with this daily. I see older folks frozen in fear as it becomes more and more obvious they cannot afford to live in the homes they've ALREADY PAID FOR. I help countless customers appeal their assessments, AND WIN, only to have the school district HIRE LAWYERS (paid for by the tax dollars of those who they are shaking down), drag the homeowner back to assessment court, and RE-APPEAL the new assessment on slightly different grounds. The property owner must fight again and again and again. Talk about double/triple/quadruple jeopardy!

I am NOT exaggerating. The schools will not give up until they have extorted something, anything. They have lawyers, they have time, but mostly, they have UNLIMITED resources which can be used for educating students, teacher salaries, school gymnasiums, OR LAWYERS WHO ACT AS BAG MEN insuring the uninterrupted flow of these "educational dollars". It is unfortunately their call and their call alone. I say "unlimited" because they can choose to raise the millage when they want, however much they want. Or they can choose to unleash their attorney attack dogs on the most vulnerable of the herd. Because they are cowards and jackals, they choose the latter.

If you bring "relief" to property taxes by shifting the burden elsewhere, without school district limits and accountability, the districts will be ecstatic I'm sure. They will gleefully rub their money-grubbing hands together thinking that homeowner "tolerance" for tax sticker-shock will have just been set back to square one. That will not be the case, but it won't matter. Schools will have just won the Lotto, one of PA's biggest problems will have just taken on a different form and nothing will have changed. Except that our dysfunctional clock will continue to tick, seniors will continue to lose their homes and Pennsylvania will continue its shameful slide to nowhere.

Please, please, please do something in earnest about this. You know what has to be done .... just suck it up and do it. Whether it is a .5 percent increase in sales tax or changing what is taxed or any combination thereof .... it does not matter. What matters is that you address the core of the problem which I have addressed above. Anything less than this will just put the problem off to some future date which is what you guys have been doing for decades.

This must stop and it must stop now."

Saturday, July 21, 2007

On A Path To Nowhere


Pittsburgh's destiny is recorded in the stars as well as in a letter published in today's Post Gazette:

Let up on Luke
After numerous articles recently in the Post-Gazette, it seems that your paper is trying to drive the mayor out of town. Whether it's who he hires, where he goes or the security he has with him, not much light has been shed as of late.


I understand he is the most accountable figure on the city's payroll, but can we please just give this guy a chance? Let's focus on issues that matter, such as the city's added security, urban redevelopment and other neighborhood initiatives.

We're not asking him to be a saint. However, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is young, energetic and passionate about growing the city he loves so much. This is what Pittsburgh needs. And it would be a real shame to see his tenure short-lived.


TONY GREGO

Millvale

Friday, July 20, 2007

In Praise of Pittsburgh’s Mainstream Media (Except for Marty Griffin)

Thank you Rich Lord of the Post Gazette. Thank you Jeremy Boren of the Tribune-Review. Thank you Bob Mayo, Jon Delano, Tony Norman and countless others at the City Paper, KDKA, WPXI and WTAE. Radio talk show host Marty Griffin, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and of course Ravenstahl’s mother are a few who think local media have unfairly targeted our young mayor and are “out to get him.” But for the most part, Pittsburgh’s media are uncharacteristically unified on one point: We have an ethically challenged, arrogant frat-boy for a mayor and we’d better watch him closely because he could do some serious damage to a city already on the brink of insolvency.

It has taken decades of unchecked corruption, gross mismanagement, parasitic unions, corporate robber barons and one-party tyranny to bring Pittsburgh to the dangerous precipice where it stands today. True, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s contribution to this debacle is admittedly minuscule considering his short 10-month stint in office. And perhaps we would not be in the pickle we are today if the media had been half as vigilant with prior administrations as they are with this current one. Perhaps if we voters had engaged our brains prior to voting there wouldn’t have been a critical need for any media watchdogs to save us. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

One thing is clear, however….We no longer have time to debate the lessons of hindsight. We only have time to vigilantly scrutinize the every move of the man-boy who will unfortunately make or break us and who has shown himself to be deserving of such intense scrutiny. Ravenstahl’s actions and demeanor thus far have not been reassuring. He has stepped in one pile after another since inheriting the office from Bob O’Connor. Sadly, many of those piles were of his own making. Worse yet, Ravenstahl barely wipes the muck from one of his boots before he clomps headstrong with the other into yet another puddle of mud.

Was Rich Lord’s article about the cost of the mayor’s security detail “too much”? Is all of this just “piling on” as characterized by Marty Griffin? Absolutely not. Rich and Jeremy et al are stepping up to the plate, informing us about the who, what, when, where and why of this mayor. That is what journalists are supposed to do, by the way. Their job is to put the facts before us. Our job is to weigh those facts as we enter the ballot box this November. Hopefully we will weigh carefully and thoroughly and then do the right thing for Pittsburgh. We are out of time.

P.S. to Marty: We love you, Marty, and love how you watch out for the city. But on this one you are in the vast minorty, my man. The mayor has some serious "issues" recognized by the Left, Right, Conservatives, Liberals and Progressives alike. All media it seems but you.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Yesteryear Chinese Calendar Updated


“Year of the Pig” Removed From Chinese Zodiac. 2007 Now Proclaimed “Year of the Aggressive Cat.” New Icon More Fitting With Nowadays.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Get Them While They're Hot

I contacted Judith Kelly of the Pittsburgh Civic Design Coalition about obtaining an invitation to the mayoral forum they are hosting at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center on September 27. Luke Ravenstahl and challenger Mark DeSantis will discuss (debate?) civic design, historic preservation and spurring development.

Judith said attendance is by “invitation only” because the coalition wants to make sure they do not exceed room capacity and have adequate refreshments for the crowd, etc. She did add, however, that anyone interested in the issues of civic design can request an invitation by forwarding her their mailing address. Judith can be contacted at:

Judith A. Kelly
Judith Kelly + Associates, LLC
Chamber of Commerce Building
jak@judith-kelly.com

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Dissecting the Ridiculous


Mayor Ravenstahl’s “office” released a response to candidate Mark DeSantis who called for a certain degree of relevancy and realism in the upcoming mayoral election. The complete Ravenstahl response with snarky Pist-Gazette commentary can be read below. A slight word of hope to PG readers who have a sensitivity to the butchering of the English language: Mayor Ravenstahl’s tortured sentence structure in this instance is not nearly as dreadful as in past communiqu├ęs.

Mayor Ravenstahl:

“It is our hope and desire that this campaign can be about the issues, rather than just election year campaign tactics. The Mayor is very disheartened by what we’ve seen from our opponent thus far.

“What they’ve seen”? Unless it pertains to drinking, partying, golfing or celebrity stalking, Ravenstahl is never in the vicinity to see much of anything.

“If our opponent does not know, the City of Pittsburgh is required under Act 47 and Act 11, the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, to have a five year budget and recovery plan. We have that already. The major difference between our opponent and Mayor Ravenstahl is that the Mayor has already been a part of making that plan and bringing it into existence.”

The City’s Act 47 status and accompanying “distressed city” five year plan was enacted and approved when Ravenstahl was a city councilman. Ravenstahl “vigorously” fought both the distressed status and the five year plan, even going so far as to vote against both knowing that official bankruptcy would be the immediate repercussion of his negative vote.

“Mayor Ravenstahl is the first Mayor in years to implement a structurally balanced budget. Mayor Ravenstahl has cooperated with the ICA, Act 47 and Pittsburgh City Council to put forth a plan to balance the City’s budget. Our opponent has not.”

Re-read our previous comments. Ravenstahl has implemented a balanced budget which has been MANDATED by Act 47’s five year plan. Ravenstahl’s contribution to this five year plan was to vote against it. His cooperation with Act 47 and ICA is a requirement of law and not an option as he has inferred.

“With regard to our opponent attempting to offer a policy that differs from the existing law relative to the City Ethics Code, Mayor Ravenstahl complies fully with the existing law and will continue to do so. No amount of election year antics will change that.”

This is a superb example of why Ravenstahl is so hated. Nothing contained in the above comment is true. DeSantis wants the mayor to adhere to the EXISTING Ethics Code, a code which Mayor Ravenstahl has habitually trampled even before becoming mayor. There are no election year antics involved in an appeal for ethical behavior. But ooops, we are in error. There is one bit of truth imbedded in the mayor’s comment. He will undoubtedly persist in unethical behavior as he's told us he “will continue to do so.”

“Mayor Ravenstahl has served for over ten months now. He has demonstrated that he always treats the voters and residents of the City with the highest degree of respect. In fact, he has stood election twice before and has always done so. Our opponent has not.”

“He stood election twice before and has always done so.” ??? 2PJ takes that one on better than I am able.

“Our opponent exclaimed in his announcement that no candidates should misrepresent his own or his opponent’s past business or political experience. On this we can agree.”

My goodness, Luke, you are the embodiment of misrepresentation. Business, political, personal ….. you name it, you misrepresent it.

“Finally, our opponent asks now, in the form of his pledges, to call on the candidates to agree to debate. Our opponent should be reminded that on June 20th, Mayor Ravenstahl was the first candidate to call for and offer specific debates. To date, our opponent has not responded to our offers. Now our opponent is using campaign tactics to rewrite history. Mayor Ravenstahl looks forward to debating his opponent vigorously.”

Yes, Ravenstahl has responded that he will debate DeSantis IF he has time, IF high schoolers ask the questions, IF, IF, IF. But take heart readers, there is a “forum” scheduled. At least a few “area residents” will get to hear the mayor’s thoughts at that invitation-only event.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Until We Meet Again


China has made news recently on a number of unfortunate topics. They’ve added poisonous substances to exported pet food so that it would test higher in protein content than it actually was. Then they put an anti-freeze chemical in exported cough medicine and toothpaste for who-knows-what reason. Lead paint on children’s toys, bacteria-infected antibiotics, exploding cell phones and car tires are just a few of the other Chinese innovations which have hit the world market as of late. And who could forget the image of the Chinese street vendor using boiled and “seasoned” filthy street cardboard as filling for his savory dumpling treats.

Well, China has acted swiftly to repair their tarnished image….. They’ve executed the head of their food and drug administration, Zheng Xiaoyu. This is undoubtedly after a fair trial. And undoubtedly Mr Xiaoyu was acting alone. His practices must have been unknown to the Chinese government and were carried out without their silent consent. So we can now breathe easy that our Made-in-China purchases will no longer maim or kill either us or our pets.

As for Mr. Xiaoyu who paid dearly for his indiscretions …… maybe we can look forward to seeing him once again. Maybe he will be one of the tastefully posed, scientifically and artistically relevant plasticized “Bodies” on display at the Carnegie Science Center this October. I’m sure he, like all the other bodies in the display, will have given his permission to be used for such an enlightening purpose. After all, the Chinese government has approved and verified it as being so.

Ravenstahl Agrees to a Debate ........... Sort Of



Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has agreed to share the podium with mayoral challenger Mark DeSantis at a "forum" for 5,000 "invitation only" architects, planners and civic leaders. Topics for discussion will include the ever-pressing, burning issues of civic design and historical preservation. Hopefully some time will be set aside for the third discussion topic, "Spurring Development."

Considering this event is not open to the public and that it will only be aired on WDUQ, Luke may have found a way to have his debate cake and eat it too! How very clever and Ravenstahlesque. A debate which very few will ever hear and one which avoids most of the hot-button topics facing our city today.

Wonder if the MSM will be denied entry? Wonder if they've asked? Wonder if the mayor has black-balled the Trib's Jeremy Boren just as a matter of course? Silly questions, no doubt. All rooted in the enormous envy we all have for this young, fresh mayor and his young, fresh agenda.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Trib Fires Back: Who You Callin’ Yellow?


Even Sophie Masloff Enters the Fray

The Tribune-Review launched a counter-attack against the mayor this morning, obviously in response to Ravenstahl’s charges of “Yellow Journalism” tactics by the newspaper. Today’s front-page salvo chronicles the mayor’s propensity to duck, if not outright lie, when asked tough questions about his many blunderous “misseps.”

This matter-of-fact recap of Ravenstahl’s numerous stupid and/or outrageous escapades was long overdue and much needed. Even so, seeing it laid out in the mainstream press was enough to make even the most jaundiced wince. How could Pittsburgh be so unlucky as to have this kid heaped upon us at a time some would say we can least afford it?

The Trib didn’t just take one punch and let it go. No, an additional article by Richard Gazarik reports on advice given to Luke by area leaders. And then there is the always-sage commentary by Eric Heyl who thinks Luke is a golf addict on the verge of needing an intervention.

If the Trib is just a Yellow Journalist Republican rag, imagine what threats and torture must have been used to extort these comments from “everybody’s grandma” Sophie Masloff and others in the area:

Mayor Sophie Masloff, Pittsburgh Mayor 1988-1994: “ I was the mayor for 24 hours a day – that came ahead of everything else. When I had appointments I couldn’t keep because I went somewhere, I always said where I was, and members of the media checked up on me. That was fine.”

Morton Coleman, aide to former Mayor Joseph Barr and former director of Pitt’s Institute of Politics: “Clearly, Luke’s got to be forthcoming. This is a job that demands transparency, and when he doesn’t do that, it just creates all kinds of problems for him and for everyone else.”

Khari Mosley, PA League of Young Voters board member: “There is a growing contingent of people who are skeptical of the mayor’s leadership.”

David Donahoe, aide to late Mayor Richard Caliguiri: “The [only time Caliguiri hid anything from reporters] was when a reporter learned of his illness before he was ready to tell anyone. I can’t say he got mad, he just realized he had to be forthcoming about it from that point on.”

Kinder, gentler words offering constructive criticism but still acknowledging there is a problem:

Ted Harhai, Monessen Mayor 1998-2002: “Cool it. [snip] He needs to lower his profile and concentrate on the things that need concentrated on.”

Jim Gebicki, Latrobe Mayor 1993-2000: “I don’t think he knew any better. He needs to listen more, talk less. [snip] It’s easy to make a fool of yourself or your community or both.”

The Pist-Gazette begs to differ. Mayor Ravenstahl has worked long and hard and has gone way out of his way to make a fool of himself. Thank God for Yellow Journalist Republican rags like the Tribune-Review who, as it turns out, is nobody’s fool.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Sister Patrice Hughes to Master Luke: "No More Skipped Meetings, Young Man!"


Ethics Board Thinks Luke Should Start Doing His Own Homework Too

Friday, July 6, 2007

He May Have Stepped In It This Time


Ballyhooed by many as much to do about nothing, the latest Ravenstahl Golfgate gaffe may have dirtied the mayor’s boots more than his supporters and apologists would care to admit.

Forget the fact that he’s incurred the wrath of hundreds of scornful women. Let’s also overlook for the moment that he keeps lying about stuff. Stupid stuff. What might be the mayor’s undoing in this particular blunder is a little matter of $9,000, the appearance of impropriety if not the real thing, a few ethics violations thrown in here and there, and possibly even a little trip down the hall to see Sister Patrice Hughes.

That definitely is a sticky situation,” Sister Patrice said when she learned of the $9,000 golf benefit gift the mayor received from UPMC. Sister Patrice is the chair of the city’s newly revived Ethics Hearing Board.

Luke continues to insist that the golf event was a charity fundraiser even though he initially lied about his attendance, was not one of the “celebrities” raising the funds, nor was he one of the “charitable” persons giving the funds. Ravenstahl also contends there are no dots connecting UPMC’s prior contributions to his mayoral campaign, this latest UPMC $9,000 golfing gift, $5 million of renewed UPMC contracts with the city, and the City Planning Commission’s sudden reversal of their previous decision to disallow large “UPMC” neon signs atop the U.S. Steel Building.

Acting City Controller Anthony Pokora says Ravenstahl should be allowed to accept pricey gifts like the golf outing because the mayor doesn’t make enough to be able to pay for those things himself. (Head shake here) Others don’t quite know what to make of that sentiment.

Legal Experts: Free rounds of golf might violate the city’s code of conduct.

Marvin Fein, deputy city solicitor for Mayor Caliguiri: “I think it probably violates the spirit of the [city’s code of conduct]. It’s a giant gift from a giant interested party.”

Post Gazette Editorial Board: “None of this sounds very good.”

Ravenstahl apparently thinks otherwise. After the Tribune-Review broke the story of his “charitable” golf outing, he promptly accused the newspaper of “Yellow Journalism”, has refused to speak to them since, and has made vacation plans for next week. Maybe he thinks if he leaves town for a while, things will quiet down. Maybe he’s right.

A word of advice to Master Luke: Go someplace quiet. Lay off the golf for a while. Don’t let any “interested parties" pay for your room or your entertainment. And for goodness sakes, don’t fly Burkle Air.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

It's All Just A Vast Right Wing Conspiracy


Or Maybe The Conspiracy Is On The Left

Or maybe it’s the Fourth Estate (correction compliments of Mark Rauterkus) who is unfairly “targeting” him. Or Peduto. Probably it’s all of them. Probably it’s everywhere. Probably everyone is out to “get” poor Little Luke and bring him down.

On Marty Griffin this morning, Luke launched his counter-attack. He said….

o Jeremy Boren, the Trib and “the Republicans” are just out to “get” him. (Editorial Comment: It's always nice to have one or two Republicans around in the city to scare people with.)

o Jeanne Clark was not speaking for NOW, she was the mouthpiece for Bill Peduto and his interests. It was Bill who gave her talking points before the public hearing.

o His schedule and what he does on a daily basis is not for the consumption of the media. (Editorial Comment: !!!!!)

o UPMC paid his $9,000 golf tab.

o He wondered why Mark DeSantis didn’t attend the public meeting himself if he thought it was so important. (Editorial Comment: A bit of "na-na-na-na-na", don't you think?)

o He never intended to go to the public meeting. No mayors ever attend City Council hearings .... separation of the branches of government and all that. Besides, he was never invited. (Editorial Comment: Not true. A letter requesting his appearance was sent to him by the city clerk. The Women's Commission also requested that he attend.)

o He felt the domestic violence issue was so important, he met privately with many women's groups prior to the public meeting.

o If he had “skipped” a meeting where he was supposed to be just to play golf …. “Well then, yea, you got me,” he blustered. (Editorial Comment: Is he referring to situations like the one where he blew off his meeting with The Hill just so he could drink and party in NYC? Oh wait, that was skipping an official meeting to “drink and party” NOT to “play golf.” I’m sure there is a hair-splitting difference there somewhere.)

Marty also spoke to Mark DeSantis and Jeanne Clark who offered their comments:

o Jeanne Clark said she’s not a “mouthpiece” for her husband, nor her son and certainly not for Bill Peduto or any other man. She said NOW is presently talking to attorneys discussing their options. She also said she was never "invited" to his private meeting and it was made clear to her that this was an "invitation only" event.

o Mark DeSantis just laughed. Yes, he reminded Luke that Mark DeSantis was not the mayor … Luke Ravenstahl was! And then he continued to laugh out loud.

Griffin himself chimed in saying that both Luke and his office have repeatedly lied to him. Marty was first told Luke didn’t attend the public meeting because he was in fact meeting with Chief Harper. Marty was then told Luke was in Harrisburg. Both of which were untrue.

####

An un-friggin, mind-boggling PS to this story: Marty reported that Luke was spotted on the golf course, hitting balls, right after his “interview” on Marty’s show, 'splaining his golf escapades.

####

An additional, intersting PS to this story: "Deb" was one of the callers on Marty's show. She is a city employee, a friend of Luke's, a friend of the family, knows him so well "he's like one of her own children." Deb opined that the problem is all of us don't give Luke the respect he deserves. I think we've heard from Deb before.

In A World Turned Upside Down ....


Al Gore III Booked

Former Vice President Al Gore’s son, Al Gore III, was arrested Wednesday…..

In possession of marijuana….

Vicodin….

Zanex…..

Valium…..

And Soma……

Speeding southbound on I-5 going 100 mph…..

In his environmentally conscious, ozone-friendly blue Toyota Prius.

Very disconcerting to witness hypocrisy and idiocy running rampant across all spectra of society. Left and Right, Lib and Con alike. On a more uplifting note, sounds like some kick-ass performance from a hybrid car!

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Extra! Extra! Extra!

Outstanding poster creation and design by Yinzermullet ; Concept by Smittyfromtheflats


First Annual Luke Ravenstahl Golf Course Debate!

Is it so? Have our fondest dreams come true? No, not yet. But the Burgher, Smittyfromtheflats and a number of other upstanding citizens would give anything to make it so.

Contact John over at the Yinzermullet for any details which may hopefully come to pass.

Are You Going To Put Up With This BS?



Our civic-minded mayor has magnanimously hinted that he MAY agree to debate Mark DeSantis, his lone mayoral challenger, IF the heavily laden golfing duties of his office will permit, AND IF questions are prepared by city high-schoolers who undoubtedly have a keen grasp on civics and local government even though as a group they appear to grasp little else.

I guess this is just another instance of the mayor feeling most comfortable in a setting of his own peers. Good catch, 2PJ.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Good Governance Ambassador Murphy Visits Des Moines

He Knows What’s Best For That City Too

Former Mayor Tom Murphy visited Des Moines recently to lend his support to a proposed sales tax that will be considered by Des Moines voters on July 10th. Carving out some spare time from his local advisory duties outlined in his “non-prosecution deal” with federal prosecutors, Murphy warned Des Moines citizens that they’d lose out if they didn’t approve a local “Yes to Destiny” sales tax which funnels money into arts, cultural and regional attractions. “If you don't understand that, you're not going to win in the competition," he said at a meeting with Des Moines Register editors and newspaper reporters.

Some in Des Moines are appreciative of Murphy’s advice. Others are hesitant to heed a mayor who was almost convicted of using public money to buy votes in his last election. Not that Des Moines citizens have been made privy to that part of Murphy’s resume. But after comments made by City Council President Doug Shields and Budget Director Bill Urbanic were published in the Des Moines Register, hopefully many will consider themselves sufficiently forewarned.

“We’re basically in a Chapter 11 situation,” Pittsburgh City Councilman Doug Shields told Des Moines Register staff writer Melissa Walker. “I wouldn’t call that successful.” Shields went on to say that Murphy “used phantom revenue in the budget, laid off nearly 400 workers in one day, butted heads with the council and municipal workers, and was at the helm when Pittsburgh's money woes caused it to ask the state for help.”

Bill Urbanic said Murphy's strategy caused "a fiasco with our downtown retail section" and contributed tax money to retail projects that failed.

Hope folks in Des Moines are listening. If not, and some version of “Murphy’s Law” compromises that city also, maybe they can take it up with U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan who may have been a bit hasty in paroling Murphy even before she prosecuted him.