Firefighters ask for postponement of pension hearing

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The Pittsburgh firefighters union is asking a judge to postpone a hearing on its request to stop a state takeover of the city pension fund.

The hearing was to begin at 10 a.m. today before Common Pleas Senior Judge Robert C. Gallo.

However, union attorney Joshua Bloom said he would ask the judge to delay the hearing because union officials reconsidered part of their case.

He said the firefighters no longer would ask the judge to order the city to avoid a takeover.

In their lawsuit, the union had said the city should raise taxes, if necessary, to generate enough money to put into the pension fund so that a takeover would be avoided.

The authority to increase taxes rests with City Council and the mayor, not a judge, Mr. Bloom said. "We can't get the court to do the city's business for it."

He said the firefighters stand by their claim in the suit that the state law setting a takeover in motion is unconstitutional.

Under the state law, known as Act 44, the city pension fund, now about 29 percent funded, must be 50 percent funded by Dec. 31 for the city to avoid state takeover.

But Mr. Bloom said it's too early to ask for a hearing on that part of the case.

About $220 million is needed to avoid a fund takeover, but council and the mayor are at odds over how to raise the money, even with the Dec. 31 swiftly approaching.

Mr. Ravenstahl and Mr. Bloom have said a takeover would have disastrous long-term effects for the city and push it to the brink of insolvency.

Council members and the mayor met Friday but reached no resolution. Council members since have asked officials of various unions to enter the debate.

"The message we have for the City Council and the mayor is, please save our city,' " Mr. Bloom said.

No resolution was immediately in sight.

Council this morning took a final vote against member Ricky Burgess' self-described compromise pension bailout plan.

Mr. Burgess and Theresa Kail-Smith voted for the plan. Patrick Dowd, Bruce Kraus, R. Daniel Lavelle, Bill Peduto, Natalia Rudiak, Doug Shields and council President Darlene Harris voted against it.

The plan was based on LAZ Parking's proposal to give the city an upfront payment of $305 million and up to $355 million in revenue sharing, among other incentives, for the opportunity to operate parking garages and meters for 40 years.

Though such a deal would bring in a lot of money, a majority of council members so far has resisted efforts to address the pension crisis by turning over operation of parking assets to the private sector.

In October, council rejected Mr. Ravenstahl's proposed 50-year lease of garages and meters to private investors, including LAZ Parking, for 50 years. Mr. Ravenstahl would have used at least $220 million into the pension fund. Council and the mayor have been in a pension stalemate ever since.


Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com


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