2013 budget proposal seeks less for demolition, paving, more for local improvements
November 14, 2012 10:00 AM
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl
By Joe Smydo Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In what could have passed for a stump speech, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl told city council in his annual budget address Tuesday that Pittsburgh over the past eight years had rebounded from near-bankruptcy to a "period of rebirth and resurgence" that he intends to extend to all 90 neighborhoods.
Mr. Ravenstahl, who faces re-election next year, unveiled a proposed 2013 capital budget of $65 million, including $10 million for street paving, $3 million for demolition of dilapidated buildings and $16 million for neighborhood upgrades such as ball fields, playgrounds and spray parks.
That would be less than the $3.3 million allocated for demolition and $11.4 million allocated for paving this year but more than the $13.6 million allocated for neighborhood improvements this year, according to the city finance department.
The mayor's proposed $470 million operating budget for 2013 includes no tax increase. The operating budget already has been approved by state overseers, though council has not yet begun to debate it. Council likely will amend the operating and capital budgets before adopting the spending plans by Dec. 31.
The annual budget address serves as a kind of state-of-the-city message, and Mr. Ravenstahl used the forum Tuesday to touch on a favorite theme -- how far the city has come since 2003 and 2004, when it cut about a quarter of its work force, reduced services and entered state financial oversight under Act 47.
"Today, however, we've brought the promise back to Pittsburgh," Mr. Ravenstahl said, crediting financial sacrifices that included paying down $250 million of debt.
"Even more impressive," he added, "we did all of this despite a national economic recession."
Mr. Ravenstahl made a similar speech last week during a state hearing to determine whether the city should be released from Act 47 and its designation as a financially distressed municipality. Both addresses reflected the issues that Mr. Ravenstahl likely will make the focus of his re-election campaign.
After delivering the budget address, Mr. Ravenstahl traveled to the West End to award $275,000 in "neighborhood renaissance" grants to 12 community groups. He said a spate of development Downtown and in East Liberty must be extended to dozens of other neighborhoods and he sees the grants, for projects ranging from beautification to planning, as one way to begin meeting that goal.
Councilman Bill Peduto, who already has formed a mayoral campaign committee, said it was inappropriate for Mr. Ravenstahl, who initially opposed the Act 47 recovery plan as a councilman 2004, to brag now about the financial improvements that oversight helped to engender.
Though Mr. Ravenstahl acknowledged that the city still has financial progress to make, Mr. Peduto said the mayor made too rosy a portrayal of the city's progress.
"Our budget is far from secure," he said, noting that the mayor's address did not include "any new announcement, any new initiative, any new endeavor" that would further boost the pension fund or otherwise move the city's financial recovery to the next level.
With $13.4 million in parking tax revenue, $5 million in gaming proceeds, $32.5 million in other city funds, $11.7 million in employee contributions and an estimated $24.8 million in investment earnings, the city hopes to cover pension fund payouts next year. In all, Mr. Ravenstahl has pledged to devote $25 million in gaming revenue to the fund over five years.
But Controller Michael Lamb, another would-be challenger to Mr. Ravenstahl, said the city still isn't putting enough money into the pension fund to boost its long-term solvency. The fund was 57 percent funded June 30.
Mr. Lamb also criticized Mr. Ravenstahl for touting six years of decreasing crime rates in his address, noting that police Chief Nathan Harper, in the bureau's annual report, said the reductions "mirror the national trend."
State Auditor General Jack Wagner, another possible mayoral challenger, could not be reached.