Ravenstahl: 'Time has come' for Pittsburgh to exit financial distress

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Mayor Luke Ravenstahl today painted a picture of the city's improving financial health and told a state hearing officer that "the time has come" to remove the city from Act 47 financial oversight.

Citing balanced budgets, more than $240 million in debt reduction and repeated credit upgrades since he took office in 2006, Mr. Ravenstahl said the city should be released from Act 47 operating constraints and its designation as a financially distressed municipality lifted.

"This is a day for us, I believe, to be proud," Mr. Ravenstahl told the hearing officer, Fred Reddig, executive director of the Governor's Center for Local Government Services.

Act 47 imposes operating and spending restrictions, such as wage caps for union workers, on distressed municipalities. Since the law's enactment in 1987, 27 municipalities have gone into At 47. Only six have come out.

"Based on the facts and based on our budget, we all in our administration believe that the time has come for the city of Pittsburgh to be released from Act 47," Mr. Ravenstahl said.

In October, the city's state-appointed Act 47 coordinators, Jim Roberts and Dean Kaplan, suggested that the city be released from oversight and their work brought to a close.

Councilman Bill Peduto, a prospective challenger to Mr. Ravenstahl next year, was the only speaker who said it's too soon for the city to exit Act 47. He said many of the city's financial improvements have been led by council, not Mr. Ravenstahl, and he noted that dozens of financial recommendations made by the Act 47 coordinators have yet to be implemented by the mayor's office.

Controller Michael Lamb, another prospective mayoral candidate, previously has said that Mr. Ravenstahl needs as much oversight as possible. On Thursday, Mr. Lamb called for the city's release form Act 47 but echoed Mr. Peduto's assertion that many of the city's financial improvements originated outside the mayor's office.

"We have been successful at pushing through positive change despite the objection of this administration, and we have been able to stop backward steps like the sale of our public assets and the taxation of college tuition," Mr. Lamb said, referring to the mayor's unsuccessful efforts to lease parking garages and parking meters and impose what he called a "fair-share" tax on university students.

C. Alan Walker, state secretary of community and economic development, will decide whether to release the city from Act 47 and end the work of overseers Jim Roberts and Dean Kaplan. Mr. Walker is not attending the hearing, which began at 3 p.m. in City Council chambers.

Even if the city is released from Act 47, it still will be monitored by a second oversight board, the five-member Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, set up by the Legislature and then-Gov. Ed Rendell. There is no effort to dismantle the ICA.

In all, nearly 20 elected officials and civic leaders have signed up to speak at the hearing. According to a list circulated this morning, the speakers include Council President Darlene Harris and council members Ricky Burgess, Theresa Kail-Smith and R. Daniel Lavelle; city Controller Michael Lamb; state Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park; state Rep. Dan Deasy, D-Westwood; state Rep. Adam Ravenstahl, D-Summer Hill, the mayor's brother; firefighters union President Joe King; and representatives of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, Lawrenceville United, Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group and the University of Pittsburgh.

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Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548. First Published November 8, 2012 12:45 AM


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