Robinson unleashes a barrage of bills in Allegheny County council

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It's budget season, and the transformation of Allegheny County Councilman Bill Robinson from friendly to firebrand is nearly complete.

Just two months ago, the Democrat from the Hill District proposed a proclamation declaring Nov. 9, 2013, as "Could It Be I'm Falling In Love Day," honoring the 1972 soul single and its local songwriters. A few weeks later, he released a thoroughly noncontroversial proclamation congratulating a Hill District pastor.

Not anymore. Since October, Mr. Robinson has unleashed a barrage of legislation, some of it targeting Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald's key initiatives for the coming year. And as chairman of the council budget and finance committee, he holds the reins when it comes to deciding how the county spends its money in 2014.

As the 10-year council member -- who is also a former city councilman and a retired state representative -- sheds his summer skin and settles in for winter, he says he's not trying to twist any arms. Yet.

"I'm not trying to get any leverage," he said. "I have had pretty good cooperation from my colleagues and the previous chief executive in getting the things I wanted."

Among Mr. Robinson's proposals:

* A bill restricting Mr. Fitzgerald's ability to draw from the county's fund balance, requiring him to get council's permission before spending the surplus.

* A bill requiring 25 percent of money from the sale of naming rights on any county property to go to the property itself, with the rest going into the county's general coffers.

* A bill establishing a county "rainy day fund," funded by 50 percent of revenue collected from drilling, mining or logging operations on county land.

* His own capital budget, which includes $500,000 for the struggling August Wilson Center for African American Culture.

* His own operating budget, which bumps up support for the Community College of Allegheny County and a host of other programs.

Outside of legislation, Mr. Robinson recently asked Mr. Fitzgerald to turn over all proposals the county has received to drill for natural gas beneath Deer Lakes Park, a project the county executive has pushed since the summer.

The councilman said his colleagues need to reassert their rights -- and he's not afraid to push them in that direction.

"The drilling in the park issue has sparked a need to revisit the rules and regulations," he said. "Things have become even more serious. We ought to spend more time paying attention to the rules."

This seems to be a yearly cycle for Mr. Robinson, who typically builds up pressure on the administration and his colleagues as budget season approaches. One county council watcher, with only a quick look at the calendar, predicted to the day the release of Mr. Robinson's alternative budget.

But others warn against mistaking Mr. Robinson's regularity for political posturing.

"Bill challenges his colleagues to look at issues as they relate to the budget every day that he's in office. He increases that challenge as we get closer to budget time," said Councilman Jim Burn, D-Millvale. "I've always accepted these proposals at face value. Just because he's offering an increased amount of legislation around budget time, I don't think that should be construed as anything other than Bill doing his job."

Andrew McGill: amcgill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1497.


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