Pittsburgh mayoral challenger Patrick Dowd laid out a broad critique of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's management of the city's finances today, the first step in what he called "a conversation about what needs to happen here in the city" leading into the May 19 Democratic primary.
"I've spent a lot of time talking to people," he said of his time on city council and his week-old mayoral bid. "People are worried about what's happening with the city. I don't know that people are fully aware of what's going on with the budget."
What's going on, he said, is "robbing Peter to pay Paul," manufacturing razor-thin surplus predictions without disclosing how they'll be achieved, and a steady worsening of the pension fund's woes with only "liquidation" of the parking garages offered as a solution.
He criticized the city's reliance on $9.6 million in payments by its authorities, plus money shifted from the school district, on whose board he previously sat, to achieve what are expected to be narrow surpluses. In a press release, he called that "fleecing these organizations for cash" and likened it to "demanding large monetary gifts from close friends."
The five-year plan approved by council -- which Mr. Dowd voted against -- projects a $3.4 million surplus this year, followed by four years of surpluses averaging just $114,000. "We need to get these things into sustainability, and this budget clearly is not," he said.
The city's pension fund contained $260 million at year's end, just 29 percent of what it ideally should hold to cover obligations to retirees and current workers. Mr. Ravenstahl is exploring the long-term leasing of the city's parking garages to generate hundreds of millions of dollars to shore up the pension fund.
Mr. Dowd said that's like trying to sell your house to pay your bills instead of cutting expenses.
"What we try to do is cut back," he said, promising specifics later in the campaign. "We try to say, look, these are tough times, I can't go out to dinner anymore."
Mr. Dowd also criticized the mayor's transfer of $45.3 million into a fund for reducing future debt payments, and the administration's assumption that it will be able to shave $51 million from its payments in 2011 though 2013, for which it has not released a plan.
More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.