Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Council OK’s Assessment of Garages

Pittsburgh City Council passed a measure today allowing the city to contract with the Comprehensive Municipal Pension Trust Fund Board, the Government Finance Officers Association, and the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority to place a value on the Pittsburgh Parking Authority’s assets. The Ravenstahl administration wants to lease the city’s garages for 50-years and use the expected $200 million to shore up the faltering pension plan. Council President Darlene Harris wants to issue a bond based on future income from the Parking Authority and Councilman Patrick Dowd wants to transfer the Parking Authority’s assets directly to the pension fund. The state says it will take over the pension if the city cannot get it up to the 50% funded level by January 1st 2011. If that happens the state would demand millions more be put into the pension fund every year and that could lead to higher taxes or greatly reduced city services.

Throughout the process councilman Ricky Burgess has been warning the council to move forward with the mayor’s plan. He says getting the assessment will open a can of worms that will either lead to the city missing the January 1st deadline or will lead to lower bids on the lease plan. He says the council is, “playing with fire.” Dowd says the city will not miss its deadline and he says he does not think the bids will be lowered. He points out that the advice about lowering bids came from a company hired to help the city through the lease process and he says if the lease plan dies the company will not get paid. In an effort to not have a chilling effect on the lease bids Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak introduced an amendment to not release the results of the asset assessment until June 16th, the day after the bids are unsealed.
Yesterday Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl released three legal opinions that all said Dowd’s plan was illegal and would not guarantee that parking rates would be protected or even guarantee that the assets remain in the hands of a public entity. Dowd dismissed those opinions saying once again that they came from entities with ties to the process. He says he and the City Controller had the plan reviewed and it seems legal to him. Dowd says, “A good idea was walking in the public sphere yesterday and it was tripled gunned by some hired gun attorneys.” Council decided to move forward with the assessment on an 8-1 vote. Burgess cast the lone no vote.

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