George Bower's Jan. 6 letter ("The Drink Tax Ruling Serves Onorato Right") couldn't have missed the mark more. During my five years in office, my administration has worked tirelessly to control spending and cut property taxes.
In 2004, we cut property taxes by increasing the homestead exemption, and we have held the line on property taxes every year since. In fact, Allegheny County is the only county in southwestern Pennsylvania that has not increased property taxes in the last eight years.
We put an end to reassessments and backdoor tax increases by adopting a base year, and we fought to reduce property taxes for home-owners who saw their assessed values wrongfully increased due to appeals by municipalities and school districts.
During my tenure, we've also reduced the county's operating payroll by 600 employees and cut our outstanding debt by $42 million. In addition, we reduced the number of elected row offices from 10 to four and consolidated five 911 call centers into one.
While I don't fully agree with the judge's decision regarding excess drink tax revenues, her ruling gave us leeway to use the funds within the budget already established for this year. I will continue to streamline county government and will not raise property taxes in 2009.
Allegheny County Executive
Our first loyalty
As one member of the Jewish community, I am deeply concerned that the Israeli government, like our own at times and like governments throughout human history, has abandoned basic humanitarian principles and has committed deep violations of international law. No provocation justifies the massacre of civilians that is going on in Gaza.
Neither does it justify the years of keeping 1.5 million Gazans in an open-air prison with a blockade preventing them from getting adequate food, water and medical care and keeping their economy in shambles. Over the past eight years, thousands of Gazans have paid the ultimate price as victims of this policy. The deaths of hundreds of civilians in the latest assault, including many children, and the wounding of thousands of others, are a record of shame -- not just for the Israeli government, but for the rest of us who may have supported this action out of loyalty to country over principle.
Democratic constitutions and principles were created because history taught us that left unchecked, societies often abuse their powers and act in a totalitarian manner. Whether as Americans or as Jews, we must remind ourselves that our first loyalty is to democratic and humanitarian principles, not to the blind support of a country or government.
'Waves of anger'
W.H. Auden wrote in his poem "September 1, 1939," "I and the public know what all school children learn, those to whom evil is done, do evil in return."
The atrocities that have been committed in Israel and Palestine are a direct illustration of what Auden was referring to. The excessive violence in the Gaza Strip will further instill aggression in future generations of Palestinian children. They will remember these past days as their "September 1, 1939" and be willing participants in future conflicts with Israel.
Though I do not agree with Hamas' actions toward the state of Israel, I believe Israel's offensive is unnecessary and decreases the chance of detente in the Middle East. The hundreds of deaths in Gaza will only have the Palestinians rallying behind Hamas and their practices of terrorism. This conflict will create "Waves of anger and fear," as Auden wrote in this poem, and "circulate over the bright and darkened lands of the earth."
To all the people who think Israel is wrong for its actions in Gaza: If someone who lived next door to you was throwing rocks at your children, wouldn't you want to do something about it? Hamas' parents (i.e., the leadership of Iran) are encouraging the rocket attacks, so Israel has to defend itself. Hamas does not recognize Israel's right to exist. It teaches its children to hate all people who are not Muslim.
A social limbo
Any theologian, and I have a four-year degree in Catholic theology (Xavier University, Chicago, 1966), can tell you that marriage was not originally a religious institution. The churches give a blessing, but the marriage is performed by the mutual agreement between spouses. The "institution of marriage" existed before churches were even founded.
The argument given by Amy K. Bucciere ("The Question of Gay Marriage Should Be Reframed," Jan. 1 letters) sounds compelling, but my gay friends and relatives deserve to be "married" like anyone else because of the social and financial connotations the word "marriage" carries.
Keeping "religious freedoms and civil rights ... intact" is not compelling enough an argument to condemn more than 10 percent of the population to a social "limbo." They should have all the rights to be fully "married." The churches can follow the trend or be left behind.
They well know how to do either.
L. CARLOS DIAZ
A peek at our future
I enjoy Post-Gazette reporter Mark Belko's articles that deal with the future of Pittsburgh. In September I had the opportunity to travel to Chicago and saw Millennium Park. In the park is a building that deals with the future of Chicago. It is a great concept, but I left somewhat unfulfilled.
What if Pittsburgh had a "Pittsburgh Future" exhibit space with a layout of the Downtown area to the airport, complete with the proposed model maglev train? To top it off, it would have a maglev car that would simulate what it would feel like to reach 300 mph in the train, resplendent with scenery whizzing by. Of course, the Pitt, Carnegie Mellon and Duquesne innovations would fill out the rest of the space.
As a way of sparking youth interest, high-school students could show how projects wsould develop in their neighborhoods with advice from college students, thereby providing training for the college students and exuberance of youth developing things with their minds.
The neighborhoods would have to be developed to scale, and students would be told the truth about development in places like the Hill District. Development doesn't happen there because of one basic truth: the high crime rate scares it away.
JOHN W. VALENTINE
Teachers are likely to become the scapegoat
The article of the underfunding of the Public School Employees' Retirement System fund by the state and local school districts was dead on ("Payments to School Retirement System Set to Soar," Dec. 30). A financial crisis looms by 2012 when these agencies will have to pay 16 percent per year until 2017 to meet their legal obligation.
This calculated choice to underfund the plan was made in 2001. It saved pennies, but ultimately will cost the state untold millions of extra dollars.
All workers under PSERS have continually paid their full amount as mandated by law. On the other hand, the state's and the school boards' underfunding is fiscally irresponsible.
When this issue reaches the flashpoint, the public will demand a scapegoat, because the new money needed will be staggering. The pompous, talk-show bloviators will gladly supply one: the public school teachers.
The past action of the state and school boards will become moot. Our fearless leaders will finally act!
As a result, two things will happen: 1) the creation of a two-tiered pension fund, and/or 2) the scrapping of the present fund and the move entirely to the defined contribution rate, which is cheaper yet.
The PG reporters fingered the real culprits. But I bet you that ultimately teachers will become the culprits. To paraphrase Pogo: I have seen the scapegoats and they are the retired teachers.
The writer retired from Gateway School District in 1990.