Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Clock Resets on Oversight Board's Review of City Budget

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Clock Resets on Oversight Board's Review of City Budget

Article excerpt

The verbiage really said it all.

"Thwart," "violations," "hostile act," "kangaroo court" and "a new low" were among the rhetorical barbs hurled during a combative meeting of Pittsburgh's Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority late Tuesday afternoon that featured Mayor Bill Peduto and nearly every senior member of his administration facing off against the board of the city's state-created fiscal oversight agency over Mr. Peduto's proposed spending plan for 2015.

Board member Michael Danovitz and chairman Nicholas Varischetti led the charge, with Mr. Danovitz accusing Mr. Peduto's administration of failing to provide the detailed information it has sought as it weighs whether to sign off on the mayor's proposed $507.8 million operating budget, first presented to the ICA in September, and $76.6 million capital budget, delivered to the board on Tuesday.

The mayor and his staff contended that the ICA's questions had been answered in detail and took issue with the initial scheduling of the meeting. Mr. Peduto said he was notified Sunday that the meeting initially was scheduled for 10 a.m. the following day, the same time he was to deliver his State of the City address and budget presentation to city council. The mayor also fumed that, after bringing his senior administrative staff to the meeting, the board was poised to vote his budget down without asking them any questions.

"Sometimes you've just got to throw your hands up and understand that there's politics involved and at that point, you just move on," Mr. Peduto said after the meeting, adding that the board was "rejecting it based on ghosts and whims."

Ann Dugan, an appointee of Gov. Tom Corbett who has been on the ICA board for four years and voted against "disapproving" the city budget, also was troubled by the tone and procedure of the meeting. Ms. Dugan said past budgets had been approved with much less information, citing a perpetual line item in former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's budgets for a payment in lieu of taxes from the city's nonprofits that never materialized.

"You have an administration that has been working very hard to get us the information we need," she said. "I think we have enough information to make a yes or no decision on the budget. No question."

The end result of Tuesday's meeting was the resetting of a statutory clock that will see the ICA take up the city budget again within the next 30 days as the board and city launch another round of correspondence to sort out the ICA's concerns about the spending plan, including a proposed millage rate hike, a new agreement with the parking authority to steer more revenue to the city and a proposed rental registration fee for rental property owners.

All of those pieces must be approved by city council, which is taking up budget deliberations this month and has until the end of the year to pass a balanced budget. …

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