Pension impasse continues; council summons mayor

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Pittsburgh City Council tonight passed a motion compelling Mayor Luke Ravenstahl to appear at a meeting tomorrow to discuss the city's pension crisis.

The motion followed hours of heated discussion over a bailout plan that council proposed and Mr. Ravenstahl summarily rejected today.

Five council members and City Controller Michael Lamb gathered behind a podium this morning to say they'd fashioned the best possible resolution to the pension issue. They said they needed Mr. Ravenstahl's support, but he called the plan unworkable and declined to support it.

The plan revolved around the idea of shoring up the pension fund not with cash but with a different asset -- 30 years of dedicated revenue from parking-rate increases.

"It is not cash, but it is a real asset," Mr. Lamb said.

Council members introduced enabling legislation today but postponed a vote until the meeting with Mr. Ravenstahl. They decided to compel Mr. Ravenstahl's attendance because they said they were frustrated with dealing with his subordinates.

The parking authority, not the city, controls most of the parking garages and metered lots. And the mayor conceivably could use his influence at the parking authority to block support there.

The pension fund, now 29.3 percent funded, must be 50 percent funded by Dec. 31 to avoid a takeover by the state. For months, Mr. Ravenstahl and council have skirmished over how to raise the $220 million that would boost the fund to 50 percent.

With time running out, council members last week consulted the state about dedicating future revenue streams to the fund instead.

Mr. Ravenstahl this afternoon said he couldn't support the plan. Among other snags, he and city finance director Scott Kunka said, the parking authority cannot with one vote dedicate 30 years of revenue to the city pension fund.

Mr. Kunka said the authority each year must be concerned with meeting its own debt payments. If money is left over, he said, the authority board could vote to turn it over to the city for the pension fund.

Mr. Kunka said council's plan would commit the city to producing dedicated revenues for 30 years. Where the money comes from, he said, could vary each year.

Councilman Ricky Burgess said the city at some point might have to raise taxes to compensate for money that the parking authority might never provide.

Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, a parking authority board member, said the authority would have to meet later this week to vote on raising parking garage rates and funneling the increases to the city pension fund. The authority board previously voted 3-2 not to participate in another council-proposed bailout plan.

Mr. Lamb said revenues from increased garage and meter rates could total nearly $900 million over 30 years.

Council already approved meter increases as part of another bailout plan that later stalled, and those increases will take effect next year. The parking garage increases were part of a bailout plan proposed by Mr. Ravenstahl and rejected by council; those increases still would have to be approved by the parking authority board.

More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Joe Smydo: or 412-263-1548.


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