Peduto is All Over This Blog! More From Bill

Here is more from Bill Peduto, first replying to my critique, then answering the rest of the outstanding questions. To make things clearer, my comments and the questions are in bold font; Bill Peduto's comments are in regular font.

In response to my critique: About your critique, I focused on in-migration as a term applying to all living outside Pittsburgh – not just immigrants. I believe encouraging in-migration and reducing out-migration are inter-related, and I’d disagree with your assertion that elected leaders shouldn’t worry about out-migration. An article in the June issue of American Demographics cites Pittsburgh as a national leader in attracting educated immigrants – largely because of our universities – and I believe improving our quality of life would encourage these immigrants to stay and create businesses and wealth here in Pittsburgh. I guess we’ll agree to disagree.

Four: Congratulations. You've won. You've got 60 days to get off on the right foot and make a difference. Identify the first 5 substantive things that you want to accomplish in that time.

The first 100 days have traditionally been the measuring stick of administrations, but we’ll start with the first 60. I wanted to list accomplishments that can be completed or nearly completed in that time – so the list is not earth-shattering, but the ideas are significant. I didn’t want to say “I’ll start to …” on every question.

In no particular order:

1. I will seek RFP’s from outside sources who will go after the abusers of the system that improperly list outside of Pittsburgh locations as their primary residence, underreport income, and do not file change of addresses with the city. I will go after those violators that commit fraud against the people of Pittsburgh by not paying their fair share. All of the responsible, tax-paying citizens of Pittsburgh are currently paying for those abusers who are not paying their fair share. If Pittsburgh recovered an extra 10% in unreported Property, Wage, and EMS Taxes, the city could save an additional $10 million each year. The city will select an outside source that will take payment based on a percentage of the total amount they are able to collect. Above and beyond this, I will aggressively pursue delinquent tax and citation payments.

2. As mayor, I will create a parks commission, similar to Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park Commission, which will preserve and protect open space, create recreation opportunities, and maintain all park landscape and structures. This public/private partnership will provide greater recreational opportunities for the community, while saving taxpayers dollars.

3. I pushed for Pittsburgh to adopt the successful CitiStat program to track city services as a councilman, but I don’t think it has been utilized correctly by this administration. As mayor, I will make sure that Pittsburgh realizes the full potential of a well-operated CitiStat system. The program saved Baltimore at least $13.2 million in the first year, and we haven’t seen proportionally similar savings – and we can. The program essentially holds managers and shift supervisors responsible for city employees work, and I’ll make sure the program is an effective tool for efficiency.

4. I will reinstate the Community Oriented Policing program to put officers back into the neighborhoods. I will merge the city and county arson squads, bomb squads, police training operations, homicide investigation, and warrant office services to save the city approximately $4.2 million per year. By moving specialized police operations to the county, the city will have the officers needed to reinstate the COP program.

5. Absentee landlords have stood by and watched while properties they own in the city decay and with them our neighborhoods. I wrote the legislation creating Operation Red. This program allows for the placement of large red signs in front of properties that have been cited for numerous building code violations and where the necessary repairs have not yet been made. These large red signs provide neighbors with an address and phone number of the absentee landlord. Operation Red is an effective tool for both citizens upset that nothing has been done and community groups who have been fighting with absentee landlords who have allowed their properties to fall into disrepair. As Mayor, I will reinstate this program and encourage all concerned citizens and community organizations to nominate properties for Operation Red. If we pressure these absentee property owners together as a community, we can and will win back our neighborhoods.

One: The most pressing issue for Pittsburgh is job growth. The Mayor has limited power in this area. What should the Mayor do to promote job growth in the region? Assuming that the task is really a collaborative one, who else must participate actively in whatever steps you outline? Speak to the long-term as well as to the short-term.

Short term, the URA no longer is going to be the organization responsible for the big projects in our region. Our shoulders aren’t big enough for that load. The URA was the most forward-thinking, innovative organization for economic development … in 1946. It made sense when 2/3rds of the county lived within the city. It’s time to modernize it. It’s time to merge the planning department and the URA and create a department of Neighborhood Development and Planning. How does this create jobs? We are going to focus on our neighborhoods and turn our neighborhood main streets into small business incubators – because small businesses provide approximately 75 percent of new jobs in today’s economy.

Long term, I’m going to work with the county to create a single unified economic development agency as part of an enhanced countywide planning department. So the county must be – not just an active participant with the city – but the leader in economic development. The greatest detriment to development remains the fractionalized efforts to plan for our future. When we create a county-wide plan for future growth, we can assure that Pittsburgh competes with Buffalo, Cleveland and Cincinnati, instead of the airport corridor and Robinson. We are going to focus that unified power on real economic development – new economy industry clusters. We’re giving up political turf, so I’m going to hold the county accountable to ensure it’s focused on creating real economic growth. Real economic development is not Wal-Marts in Deer Creek. It’s creating an environment where small, high-tech businesses grow and compete in a global economy. After we turn over the keys and unify economic development, we’re going to focus economic development on the new economy.

Longer term, we are also going to address the uncompetitive tax-structure that holds Pittsburgh down. It’s been said that Pittsburgh would be a great city in any other state. Unfortunately we are stuck with Pennsylvania’s pre-WWII industrial era tax structure that only allows us to raise 4 taxes – and we are maxed out on all four. After we work within the Act 47 framework to streamline government, we will partner with the 53 third-class cities that face the same problem and go to Harrisburg to create a fair and competitive tax structure for Pennsylvania cities. Harrisburg won’t listen if it’s just Pittsburgh’s problem – why would the representative from Coudersport want to fix Pittsburgh’s problem? – but if we actively partner with Erie, Meadville, Johnstown, and other cities facing the same situation we can create a bipartisan coalition to explain to Harrisburg the need for reform.

Reader submitted: If you are elected, would you pressure the URA to sell of the properties it has been sitting on Downtown, in the hopes of spurring private development?

Yes. We need to return these properties to the tax rolls. Fifth and Forbes has been an embarrassment. I will not let parts of downtown decay while city leaders wait for a “suitable” all-encompassing retail project.

Pittsburgh needs to change from the current model of focusing on attracting national big box retail to downtown, to supporting and creating opportunities for locally owned enterprises. We must avoid trying to play catch-up with cities like Indianapolis, Cleveland, and Baltimore, and instead create a one-of-a-kind local flavor. New urban development promotes the uniqueness of a region, and it doesn’t choose winners and losers.

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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]gmail.com. Mike also blogs at Madisonian.net, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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