What Fresh Hell Is This?

November 14, 2006

The Budget - Round One

Yesterday, the OPJ wrote about Mayor Luke presenting his 2007 budget to the City Council.

While the coverage from the city's two major dailies differs in some respects, I am sure the Peduto camp is happy to see that the phrase "phantom revenues" is well placed in all of it.

Rich Lord at the P-G starts a bit snarky:
Making what amounted to his first campaign promises, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said yesterday that the city will solve more crimes, clean up more lots, sweep more streets, prune more trees and board up more houses next year than this year -- all on roughly the same budget.
And it only takes him four paragraphs to quote Peduto:
Councilman William Peduto, a likely mayoral candidate next year, immediately criticized the five-year plan accompanying the budget, saying it contained "phantom revenues."
In Jeremy Boren's first article at the Trib, Mayor Luke outlines how he came to all of the budget projections:
Ravenstahl said he formed the goals with advice from department directors and city budget experts, and many of them aim high. The number of vacant lots cleared in 2007 would be 590, up from 524 this year; buildings condemned would go to 472, up from 458; and major crimes solved per detective would increase to 72 next year, up from 66 this year.

Some of the goals anticipate a downturn: 40,000 potholes would be repaired next year as opposed to 41,000 this year; and the total number of major crimes cleared by police would go down to 4,122 in 2007 from 4,293 this year.
Though we have to wait nine paragraphs to see the quote from Peduto:
Ravenstahl must run to keep his job in a May primary and November election next year. His strongest opponent, Councilman William Peduto, criticized the mayor’s budget and five-year spending plan for including “phantom revenues” in the form of state grants and donations from nonprofits.
See? there it is.

In today's article, Boren rewrites:
Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl put his proposed $419.5 million budget for 2007 in City Council's hands Monday and set a series of new performance goals for city services.

"We're moving on the right track back to fiscal responsibility," Ravenstahl said. "If you look at where we are now, it's significantly different."

The city was on the brink of bankruptcy in 2003, but budget planners now expect the city to post a $57 million surplus at the end of this year.
and moves Peduto's quote (while fleshing it out) up a paragraph:
But that's not stopping Councilman William Peduto, who is likely to challenge Ravenstahl in the spring mayoral primary, from criticizing the mayor's budget and five-year spending plan for including "phantom revenues" in the form of state grants and donations from nonprofits.

"This is no different than what we were doing in 2002 when (former Mayor) Tom Murphy came up with minimal reductions in expenditures and revenues that didn't exist," Peduto said. "I would suggest that this budget be sent back to the mayor and the oversight board with recommendations for changes."

Peduto noted the five-year budget plan anticipates $10 million a year in state grants and $5.7 million a year in nonprofit contributions that haven't been promised from 2008 to 2011. He said that will create a deficit that would balloon from $9.17 million in 2008 to $33.7 million in 2011.
Lord in the P-G has a good back and forth on this:
The mayor's 357-page budget does not raise taxes. It complies with state law by trimming the parking and business privilege taxes, and goes a step further by halving the amusement tax charged on tickets to events by nonprofit groups.

Mr. Ravenstahl said the city will end this year with $57 million in its savings account, and add another $5 million next year. Just three years ago, the city had almost no savings and was in the process of being designated as distressed under state Act 47.

Mr. Peduto said the five-year plan overestimates deed transfer and parking taxes, and state and nonprofit contributions. That, he said, would lead to yawning deficits beginning in 2008.

A consortium of nonprofit groups has said it doesn't plan to give the city money after 2007, but the city's plan counts on $5.7 million a year from such organizations through 2011.
This would seem to be a problem.

Then there's this from the Police:
Fraternal Order of Police President Jim Malloy said he was glad that Mr. Ravenstahl plans to increase the number of uniformed police to 900 next year -- a long-held goal for which the mayor had previously provided no timetable.

But Mr. Malloy said boosting the number of crimes city detectives are expected to solve, on average, from 66 this year to 72 next year will be tough. "Sixty-six is a hell of a lot of crimes to clear, let alone 72."
I wonder how many other projections of the Mayor's run along this line.

Looks like each side succeeded in getting the message out:

Mayor Luke say: The Budget's good - everything is going to get better.
Councilman Peduto say: It's based on phantom revenues - deficits will follow.

vs Stay Tuned!

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