The Sept. 4 Post-Gazette news article "Pittsburgh Budget Monitor Has Own Budget Woes" pointed out some disturbing facts about the poor accounting standards of Pittsburgh's Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority. However, the PG editorial board, in "Oversight Out of Sight: A Pittsburgh Fiscal Watchdog Undermines Its Bark" (Sept. 5), failed to take the next logical step: calling for the ICA's elimination. The news article also missed some additional distressing information.
The ICA has acted as a contract machine for ICA executive director Henry Sciortino's corporate friends while doing little to improve Pittsburgh city government, unless you consider forcing the purchase of overpriced and dated accounting software from Allegheny County as "progress." Contract after contract has been doled out on the taxpayers' dime with little tangible evidence that anything has changed outside of what the state Department of Community and Economic Development's Act 47 oversight team would have achieved on its own.
In addition, the ICA is in violation of at least two provisions of the law which created it. Section 206(b) of Act 11 of 2004 prohibits the ICA from spending any more than its annual allocation from the General Assembly, which means that it should not be carrying fund balances forward to pay for its operations. Second, Section 207 instructs the ICA to file annual reports and audits with the Legislature and in the Pennsylvania Bulletin to account for its own finances. It has never published its finances in the Pennsylvania Bulletin. It writes a report to the General Assembly, but it has never been delivered and no information can be found about its own expenses and the necessary audits as required by law.
The ICA also has, on two occasions, withheld Pittsburgh's gaming revenue to force the city to do its bidding. While this is a power the authority holds, it has not distributed interest earned on those revenues back to city coffers. One can only presume that the ICA is using this additional revenue to fund its overspending as reported in the Post-Gazette. This money should be returned to the city.
In the most recent audit submitted by the ICA, it is clear that funds from the Gaming Act intended for the city of Pittsburgh are being intermingled with the authority's operating revenue. The authority is using this to show that it has a higher level of operating revenue than it otherwise would report on its books. This is unacceptable and further proof that the agency is using money intended for Pittsburgh to cover day-to-day expenses. This may be a further violation of Act 11.
The Act 47 team has determined that the city is ready to come out of state oversight. This demonstrates that city government has adhered to proposed reforms and is ready to move forward under the principle of local control. That said, if city government is to remain under the watchful eye of the state, it should do so within the Act 47 process. Act 47 is an accountable and transparent process with proven results around the state and in Pittsburgh. Rather than continue to fund a bloated and unproductive agency such as the ICA, we would be better off continuing Act 47.
As far as I can tell, the ICA serves no purpose other than its own perpetuation and the enrichment of Mr. Sciortino. The agency is a drain on the city's scarce resources because it is using gaming revenue for its own purposes. Further, city finances have rebounded and the Act 47 team has asked that oversight be lifted. The ICA should be eliminated and the city of Pittsburgh should rightfully regain local control.
State Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, represents parts of Allegheny, Westmoreland and Armstrong counties.