Winded

It's time to get just a bit caught up on goings-on around the region.  No cupcakes.  I promise.

Raja, Republican candidate for Allegheny County Executive, released a "jobs plan."  Here's the whole thing.  The news coverage tended to focus on the political bickering that followed.  I don't do much politics on this blog, and I don't intend to get in the middle of the Raja/Fitzgerald race.  But the politics aside, Raja's "plan" is no plan at all.  It's re-hashed, warmed-over, re-statements of a kitchen sink-ful of ideas and platitudes that have been kicked around Oakland, Downtown, the Strip, Lawrenceville, the South Side, and in some cases, Pittsblog, for years.  Raja is as polished as political new-bees come, and he has connections and money that will assure him and all of us a high-gloss, professional campaign.  But Raja is a complete newcomer to the policy space.  I know Raja; years ago he invited me to join his new "Business Mentoring Roundtable" in Mt. Lebanon, which is occasionally touted by his campaign as evidence of Raja's experience in leading multi-stakeholder economic revitalization efforts.  I didn't do much for the Roundtable.  I was mostly a listener.  I listened to some very smart and successful people critique business plans.  And then nothing happened.  The prospective businesses were flops in waiting, for the most part, and those that weren't were looking for free advice and low-cost money, not for status as green shoots in a snobbish, overpriced suburb.  The BMR in Lebo did zero to move Mt. Lebanon forward.  That's not a criticism of Raja as such; the fact that little happened in Lebo coming out of the BMR has much more to do with the fact that Raja was offering a simple solution, a linear solution, a one-dimensional solution, if you will, to a complex, non-linear problem.  

Any candidate for County Executive who wants to move the conversation about economic development forward should be reading Jim Russell's blog and Chris Briem's blog.  Because Chris or Jim make good use of actual data.

The UPMC/Highmark feud (battle? divorce?) is just too big to ignore.  The region's biggest medical services provider plans not to renew its contract with the region's biggest private health care insurer.  Which leads local politicians to scramble to find ways to coerce UPMC into behaving better.  Which fails to get at the root of the problem:  physician compensation and insurance reimbursement policies and practices that cause health care costs to escalate across the board -- and which make the health care services industry financially attractive enough that UPMC is trying to lock Highmark out, while Highmark is trying desperately to get in.  This op-ed from a couple of weeks ago, which takes a shot at Highmark's insurance practices relative to physicians, is on the right track -- but only sort of.  Third-party insurance company incentives (productivity and profits) and physician incentives (higher compensation based on additional procedures) are misaligned with patient interests (quality of care in multi-disciplianary team-based settings).  Pittsburgh shouldn't be screaming at UPMC and Highmark to behave like well-mannered monopolists.  Pittsburgh should be enabling real competition -- supporting self-insured groups, and matching them with physicians and physician groups who are willing to work on salary.  Costs?  Down.  Access?  Up.  It's not as simple as it sounds, but it's a starting point for a more innovative and more productive end result.

In this morning's news, I read that the Pittsburgh Public Schools plan to close several schools, while at the same time demand for commercial real estate in Downtown Pittsburgh is booming.  It's hard to see clearer evidence of the city/suburb divide in the region; whatever wealth is being created Downtown certainly isn't being shared broadly bwith the City of Pittsburgh and its residents.  If the County Executive candidates want to deal with a real economic challenge, there's one to sink their teeth into.

And for anyone looking for a little more reflection and a little less grit, read up with Nicholas Lemann's New Yorker review of several recent books on the urban condition.  Whither cities?  Herein -- Florida, Glaeser, and others.

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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.

All opinions expressed at Pittsblog 2.0 are those of their respective authors and of no one (and no thing) else, least of all the University of Pittsburgh.

Pittsblog 2.0 has a motto: "It's steel good in Pittsburgh." Say it aloud, with a Pittsburgh accent.

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