Four Years Ago

Yesterday's Post-Gazette had a lot to chew on, even if a lot of it was off the mark. The paper asked four local leaders to comment on whether the region is better off today than it was four years ago. We had mostly enthusiastic agreement from three (Charles Gregory of Sony, Mariann Geyer of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, and Harold Miller of the Allegheny Conference), and a determined "no" from the only one without a direct stake in the matter, Sabina Deitrick of the University Center for Social and Urban Research, at Pitt.

From her piece:

The growth machine -- local elected officials and most nonprofit, economic development agencies -- strongly rejected such advice [to guide the development of what was becoming a place of smaller scale], eschewing the notion of "managing decline." If you're in the business of promoting growth, managing decline is defeat.

Instead, they continued with policies promoting growth, and issued long-term debt to pay for them. In the city, new expenses exceeded new revenues each year. The idea was that the new economic developments would generate enough revenue in the future to more than cover the difference. Call it what you may, but our public officials turned their backs on decades of evidence of decline, willed growth from high above and rolled the dice.

And what happened? The city's nearly insolvent. Its debt payments consumed more than 20 percent of the operating budget this year. It's beholden to a state legislature that's been a partner in these growing problems.

So what's their solution? More gambling. Public officials gambled with our future and lost. Now they're betting our bets can pay off their debts.

Wait, those are our debts.


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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at] Mike also blogs at, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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