City on the brink: Mayor and council must reach agreement today

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With little time to spare, City Council members finally heard the doomsday clock ticking down toward Pittsburgh's fiscal ruin and came up with a plan that can prevent a state takeover of its pension plan.

So far, to no avail.

The proposal -- put together in the last few days by Council President Darlene Harris, members Patrick Dowd, Bill Peduto, Natalia Rudiak and Doug Shields, along with Controller Michael Lamb -- met the mayor's demand for a plan that didn't involve the city taking on new debt. At the same time, the strategy would have avoided leasing the city's parking facilities to a private operator, which was shot down by a super-majority of seven council members.

Instead of taking an upfront payment from a private parking management firm or borrowing against the value of its parking garages, meters and lots, the city resolutions would funnel all revenue from parking rate increases to the pension fund for the next 30 years.

But Mayor Luke Ravenstahl decided to play Pontius Pilate rather than save his city from inevitable, devastating tax hikes and service cuts. He didn't even speak for himself at City Council, yet he made time to check out the line painting on the ice rink in Heinz Field for Saturday's NHL Winter Classic.

What says crisis to a 30-year-old mayor?

Two of Mr. Ravenstahl's most influential aides -- chief of staff Yarone Zober and finance director Scott Kunka -- were involved in talks with council but, when members pushed to know the mayor's conclusion, it was Mr. Kunka who delivered it: The mayor would not stand in the way of council's attempt to pass the plan, but he would not endorse it either.

Council members were livid, and they had a right to be.

This cowardly approach from the Ravenstahl administration is not as benign as it sounds. In fact, the mayor's obstinate stance likely will kill the plan, which requires action by the Pittsburgh Parking Authority.

Although the mayor and council share the blame for getting the city to this perilous point, it is now Luke Ravenstahl who stands alone as the impediment to getting the city over the hurdle that could prevent a state takeover.

Council has given the mayor another chance and called on him to attend a meeting today at 10 a.m., in an effort to forestall a state seizure.

Mr. Ravenstahl will be there unless he is determined to turn his back on the people he professes to serve as mayor. Other Pittsburghers should show up, too -- not just union chief Joe King but also many Joe Citizens demanding to see this crisis averted. And the mayor and council must not leave the room until they reach an agreement.


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