Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Plain Ole Grocery Store Not Good Enough For The Hill

The Hill has been screaming for a grocery store for years now. Years and years. Its been top on the “Community Development” list they are trying to negotiate with the city and the Penguins. This process has been a wild ride of highs and lows. One riddled with ridiculous and bizarre behavior by all parties. The Pittsburgh Comet, by the way, has done an excellent job of staying on top of this situation.

Now enter Save-A-Lot. This major grocery store chain has recently expressed interest in putting a store on the Hill. Understand they weren’t dragged to the area and forced at gunpoint to make this announcement. Surprisingly, their interest comes from an old-fashioned place: Save-A-Lot seems to think there may be a viable market for them in the Hill. Not only that …… Save-A-Lot has offered to staff the store by hiring 25 – 30 Hill District residents for full and part-time jobs.

Wow. How fortuitous! How wonderful! Time for rejoicing and merriment in the streets! A first step in making the Hill a “livable neighborhood.”


Oh … that’s right. A plain old grocery store is not good enough for the downtrodden but deserving who live on the Hill. Good food at reasonable prices right in the neighborhood is not acceptable to these folks who’ve had nothing and who’ve suffered without for so long. It’s just not good enough. The Hill insists when we “give them a grocery store” it must be one with a pharmacy included. And a bakery.

Additionally, the Hill doesn’t just want a store they can patronize. They want one they can partly own. Yep, that’s right. When they said they wanted someone to “give them a grocery store” ….. I guess they were speaking literally and we just didn’t realize it. They want to eat the bread AND the butter, the cake AND the icing, and they want a piece of the pie as well!

Well, why stop here? Why not demand a grocery store with a coffee bar and laundry inside? Maybe also a bank? How about complimentary child-care while the adults shop? How about free delivery services? Double-coupons every day of the week? Triple-coupons?

It’s stuff like this that makes people turn their backs on the plight of the Hill. It’s stuff like this which makes the Pist-Gazette want to say “let them just eat cake.” And if they have to ride the bus for an hour-and-a-half to get the cake ….. so be it. They brought it on themselves.

Property Tax Relief For Low-Income Seniors

I need your help right now! This is what we’ve been waiting for! Here’s our opportunity to create change in the lives of hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians.

In what’s being called a “dramatic turn,” the state House just last night voted 159-36 to eliminate school property taxes for low income seniors.

Remember, the House was supposed to discuss raising sales and income tax. House members dropped that idea and finally followed the will of the people!

Folks – this is a big deal! But here’s the catch: It needs another favorable vote before it moves to the Senate.

This is what we want: TAX CUTS, not TAX INCREASES!

We all need to call our state representatives TODAY! Call ten times if necessary! Tell them you support the tax cut plan.

If you don’t know who your state rep is, ask someone! Look in the phone book! But do it!

Folks, you know our elected leaders respond to phone calls. They respond to pressure. Please take five minutes out of your day and call or e-mail them. Beg them to follow through!

Please do me a favor and forward this-email to ten of your friends. Then listen to The Inside Story with Marty Griffin 9 am-noon on NewsRadio 1020 KDKA. Let’s make our leaders listen!

We can make a difference and we can create change. We MUST do it together.

Remember one voice is a whisper, but our voice is a roar!

Thanks again …..

Marty Griffin


Below are email addresses of Allegheny County State Reps and those in control of this legislation. Ask them to pass HB1600 with the Perzel amendment intact. FYI, Bennington, Clymer, Dermody, DeWeese, Schroeder, Wagner(!) & White are opposed to this legislation:

Lisa Bennington:
Paul Clymer:
Paul Costa:
Anthony DeLuca:
Frank Dermody:
Bill DeWeese:
Dan Frankel-23:
Marc Gergely:
William Kortz:
Nick Kotik:
David Levdansky:
John Maher:
Joseph Markosek:
Mark Mustio:
Thomas Petrone:
Joe Preston:
Sean Ramaley:
Harry Readshaw:
Curt Schroder:
Matthew Smith:
Mike Turzai:
Randy Vulakovish:
Chelsa Wagner:
Don Walko:
Jake Wheatley:
Jesse White:

For more details: Post Gazette, Post Gazette, Tribune-Review

Thursday, January 24, 2008

And The Media Says Nothing

Photo: Rendell instructs Ravenstahl in the fine art of splitting hairs.

Did I Slip Into A Parallel Universe Or Something?

On Tuesday, Gov. Ed Rendell “popped in” to Marty Griffin’s morning talk show on KDKA and dropped a virtual bomb shell. Rendell calmly and matter-of-factly stated Philadelphia has “selective enforcement” of their drink tax. (Like, doesn’t everybody operate this way?)

Now investigative reporters such as Marty spend their whole lives perfecting and honing their craft. Each reporter probably has a different method for wringing what they want out of people. Getting people to trip up, spill the beans, inadvertently say that one stupid word they wish they could just suck back into their mouths. So just imagine Marty’s dumbfound condition as Rendell coolly plops a public admission in his lap that Philadelphia illegally enforces their drink tax. (Like, doesn’t everybody operate this way?)

Not trusting his own ears, Griffin asked Rendell to elaborate and Fast Eddie was quick to comply. Rendell explained there was something in the Pennsylvania constitution called the “uniformity clause.” As it applies to taxes, this clause basically says that for a tax to be legal, it must be applied uniformly. Rendell lamented that when Chicago enacted their drink tax, they only applied it to those bars and restaurants along the (Downtown) Loop. Rendell and Philly would have preferred to do the same, but unlike Chicago, our constitution’s uniformity clause mandates that everyone must be taxed equally, fairly and “uniformly”. (Bummer)

So to get around things and to continue doing whatever they damn well pleased, our pesky state constitution not withstanding, clever Rendell/Philly decided they would “selectively enforce” their “uniform” tax. They would check up, audit and hound the establishments they wanted to hammer. Whereas they would just “look the other way” (a Rendell quote) with the taverns they wanted to cut some slack. (Possibly the ones who were campaign contributers? Friends? Relatives?) They reasoned they had done their constitutional duty by *placing* a “uniform” tax on the books. Collecting the tax was another matter, however. One they reasoned was not regulated by the uniformity clause. (Like, doesn’t everybody operate this way?)

So I’m dumbfounded. I can’t believe my ears. Talk radio has been non-stop all over this for the past two days. The Rendell interview has been blasted from one end of the state to the other. Calls are being made for an investigation by the Attorney General. Lawyers for the Restaurant Association (Philly and Pgh) are in hyper-mode. Dan Onorato was hunted down for his reaction, interrupting his Excellent European Vacation, as it’s now quite clear to all this tax is DOA in Allegheny County. Leaving Dan holding the bag without a pot to piss in. Quite clear that Rendell has just blown Dan’s ass clear out of the water for who-knows-what reason. There’s even speculation that Philly’s drink tax will now spontaneously combust under the weight of all the lawsuits yet to be filed.

But…… Not a word in the print press. Not a syllable on the evening news.

Have I slipped into a parallel universe or something?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Couldn't We Just Trade Places For A While?

Just Think. We Could Have Had A Real Mayor.

Mayor Lukie was one of the dignitaries who attended the inauguration of Philadelphia’s new mayor, Michael Nutter. Luke was there to hear Nutter’s inaugural speech. Who knows if he listened. Probably not. As ususal, Luke probably thought long and hard about clever sound bites he might dish out to the press who hovered nearby. Or where he’d like to kick off his partying after all the boring stuff ended.

But if he did listen, he might have realized there were untold opportunities here! Gobs of great ideas floating about just itching to have a ‘Ravenstahl’ sticker slapped on them.

Mayor Nutter’s speech just rubs in the sad fact that every other city seems to have a real mayor while we are stuck with Ravenstahl. Nutter says:

- Nutter is challenging the citizens of Philly to join him in taking their city back from the criminals.

- Police need to walk beats again. Have an active part in the community they police. People need to respect, protect and help the police in a shared effort to make the city safe.

- Government must lead by example. And that means ethics and transparency.

- Crime rate can be reduced by providing jobs for ex-offenders. Government can help businesses create those much needed jobs by making it easier for companies to function. Philly’s zoning code needs to be reformed, taxes must be reduced and the tax code must be simplified.

- A thriving business environment requires an educated workforce. Soaring high-school drop-out rates and a lack of college degrees are negative indicators which must be turned around.

- Philly must control their costs, stabilize their pension fund and come to grips with health care cost increases. Wages for public employees must be fair and reasonable, but also fair and reasonable to the taxpayer who picks up the tab.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Jane Orie: Another Straw (Wo)man To Knock Down

There’s a thread over at the Burgh Report where Jane Orie’s name has been taking some hits. Once again the complaint about Orie seems to be that she “doesn’t have the city’s best interests in mind”. Translated: “Jane Orie is not in favor of taxing suburbanites (commuter tax) to pay for the city’s bloat, mismanagement and ensuing debt.”

By that definition, the Pist-Gazette also does not have Pittsburgh’s best interest in mind because the Pist-Gazette is vehemently against a commuter tax. Instead, we believe a permanent consolidation of services/functions and/or an honest-to-goodness merger of the region’s municipalities (and school districts) is the only way to go. Any “solution” short of this measure will just allow Pittsburgh’s mismanagement enough breathing room to continue on. New suburbanite tax dollars in the hands of the city’s old, failed guard will just buy the city $200,000 firefighters instead of $100,000 firefighters. PNC, the Rooneys and the “normal players” will just get twice the TIFs, twice the gifts. The result? Citizens (taxpayers) in “the region” will continue to move yet farther out to another “region” where government has not yet been so badly corrupted. And then we’re back where we started, only in larger proportions.

First of all, just from a “fairness” standpoint, two, three or even eleven wrongs do not make a right. You cannot tax suburbanites without allowing them a vote on the issues that gave rise to the need for the additional taxes. Anyone remember what “no taxation without representation” means? Last time we checked, this is not something you do in the democratic republic we call the United States of America.

Yes, apparently Philly is not part of the democratic republic we call the United States of America. But have their “taxation without representation” schemes solved their problems? No. So why must we continue to jump off a cliff just because Philly gets to?

Secondly, if given a vote, our suburbanite neighbors would not put up with the waste and corruption we’ve come to think of as normal. If some of that chicanery got past them, they certainly wouldn't re-elect the crooks who pocketed/diverted/mismanaged the money in the first place. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, celebrates these type of people as “true Pittsburghers”. And venerates their failed “policies” as admirable attempts to sustain the city’s “quality of life”.

Whether it is her intention or not, Jane Orie is already acting in Pittsburgh’s best interest by smacking down Ravenstahl/Shields/Motznik every time they try to wiggle out of the “spending constraints” of Act 47. Go Jane! as she also guards the county by calling Onorato on the carpet for his outlandish Port Authority ponzi game.

Come to think of it …. Former City Councilman now County Executive Dan Onorato is an excellent example of the Failed Pittsburgh Governance Model unfortunately spreading to the county instead of being quarantined and exterminated within city limits.

We in Pittsburgh need to first clean out our own house. Then we can worry about getting enough respect from the likes of Jane Orie.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Teacher’s Union Not Happy With Proficiency Testing

Never Have, Never Will

Can someone please show me an instance where the Pennsylvania State Education Association has ever gotten its knickers in a knot because enough of our kids are not learning enough? There MUST be such an occurrence, no matter how long ago it was, but I can’t find it.

All that comes to mind are strong-arm tactics, striking, wailing and moaning about increasing teacher salaries and decreasing teacher workload. High on their list of concerns as of late is making sure kids get ushered out of high school whether or not they’ve learned even the basics of reading and writing. And to make sure no one knows exactly how many of our kids graduate without the skills needed to operate a cash register at McDonalds. Hence, their latest fight: Pennsylvania is considering mandatory proficiency testing as a requirement for high school graduation and PSEA (surprise, surprise) is not in accord with this plan.

Yesterday the lament was a concern for how unfair such testing would be to those kids who have “test anxiety.” Is that a new, clinical disorder/syndrome that I somehow missed? I mean we all get nervous when taking any kind of test, even a driver’s exam. That’s kinda normal, isn’t it? Are these “opponents of the graduation requirement” talking about something much more debilitating than what everyone experiences intermittently throughout their entire lives? Is it worse than the pressure of getting the food order correct at a crowded late-night diner after you’ve been on your feet for 8 hours and a belligerent customer is yelling in your face? That’s the likely fate (or worse) that these sensitive kids will face if they’re rolled off the assembly line unprepared and unschooled for more “meaningful” jobs.

Today PSEA’s concern is all about costs: "PSEA believes it is irresponsible to proceed with this until the question of actual cost of the graduation exams -- how much and who will pay for it -- has been addressed," Wythe Keever, PSEA spokesman, said in an e-mail.

Who will pay for this???? The taxpayer of course. The same taxpayer who pays for Pennsylvania’s generous teacher salary and benefit packages. The same taxpayer who will now have to pay more to re-teach kids who have not learned enough from teachers with generous salary and benefit packages.

Here are some novel ideas for PSEA to consider:

o Proficiency test the kids at the end of EACH grade. If they pass, they move on. If they fail, they repeat the grade. If this causes teachers to “teach to the test”, then …. Hooray! At least the kids will have learned that which is on each year’s test. At least the kids will have learned to read in order to take each year’s test. That would be more than they appear to be learning right now.

o Give the teachers and schools more authority to deal with disruptive/unruly/violent students. Remove these kids from the classroom after the 2nd, 3rd or 4th offense. Do not let them stay forever and poison the learning environment for everyone. Send the persistently disruptive to “special schools” with drill-sergeant-like teachers. And yes, pay THOSE teachers handsomely.

o Require parent conferences each time a child has been removed from the classroom for disruptive behavior. The conference agenda should be to develop a JOINT PLAN to turn the kid around. Fine parents if they do not show for the conference. Multiple fines/no-shows and the kid goes directly to the “special school.”

o Tie teacher raises to their performance. i.e. The percent of their class who moves on to the next grade.

If our teachers and their union care so bloody much about the success and well-being of the kids in their charge, they will use their muscle, political clout and STRIKE abilities to change the school work/learning environment to that which is suggested above. Or something similar to that which is suggested above. So that ALL our kids have a chance for a decent education. Which means a chance for a decent life.

But they won’t. Their concern is not with the kids or getting to the root of the problem. Their concern is with their pocketbook. Which at last count was in the top five fattest in the nation.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Leaving Town Just In Time

Photo: Onorato getting practice handing out cardboard checks

Dan “Read My Lips” Onorato is to be congratulated for standing by his promise not to increase property taxes. Its clear Dan believes keeping this promise is key to becoming Pennsylvania’s next governor. Dan is bright and capable and his assessment of the situation is probably correct. Too bad Dan’s desire to hold the line on property taxes isn’t rooted in a concern for the betterment and success of the county he governs. Too bad Onorato apparently views Allegheny County as a handy vehicle he can ride to Harrisburg and nothing more. One he hopes won’t run out of gas until he gets there.

The gas gauge on the Harrisburg Express recently dipped perilously and unexpectedly close to “Empty”. But Dan, being the enterprising guy that he is, made a quick stop at Get Go, picking up just enough gas to maybe complete the trip.

Had Dan (who is a CPA) focused on running the county instead of running his campaign, he may have discovered the Port Authority’s cancerous bloat before it became terminal. Or the looming shortfall in the county’s operating budget.

Instead, Dan used his creative accounting skills and standard shell game maneuvers to combine and confuse the two “unexpected” problems. In short, he taxed bar and tavern owners to the tune of $30 million or so to cover a $1 million Port Authority shortfall projected for 2008. The remainder of this $30 million would neatly cover the county’s 2008 operating deficit. An operating deficit Dan didn’t want to be made public. An operating deficit which should rightfully be a problem (tax increase) for ALL county residents, not just bar and tavern owners.

But a tax increase to all county residents in essence would mean a property tax increase. Dan “Read My Lips” Onorato was not about to stall the Harrisburg Express by reneging on his “no property tax increase” promise. He would just raise other taxes on a smaller group of people whose votes were not necessary to his gubernatorial aspirations. And of course budget cuts were not even a consideration to Dan because budget cuts are never considered by most any of our elected officials. It’s just so much easier to raise taxes. Especially if you can find little pockets of taxpayers who don’t have much clout and you then just stick it to them.

Being a tidy and competent CPA, Dan made sure he cleaned up all loose ends. Allegheny County was slated to run a slight (under $20 million) deficit in 2007, but at the last possible minute (Dec 31st) quick-thinking Dan intercepted $19.9 million in state gaming revenues. Those monies were slated to reduce debt service at Pittsburgh International Airport, but instead Dan diverted them into the county’s general fund so as to end the year “in the black”.

Yet another Onorato success.

Now that all the immediate fires have been put out, have we been left with any long-term shortfalls anywhere? Have bar and tavern owners been taxed so heavily that their businesses will be harmed? Will the tavern owners be successful in repealing the new drink tax? What about the airport debt? After all the shuffling stops, is our county budget truly balanced? Are there additional operating efficiencies and/or merger of city/county functions which have been overlooked and could provide relief to both the city and county budgets?

As with all successful shell-game maneuvers, the real bottom line always takes time to discern. This maneuver is no different.

How much time? Well, at least a year or so I’d imagine. Plenty enough time for the Harrisburg Express to have arrived safely at the governor’s mansion. Looks like Dan picked up just enough gas at the Get Go after all.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Sirk According to TWM

As usual, Chad says it better than anyone else can. Be sure to savor the last sentence.