Fiscal skeptic: Peduto has reason to be cautious on oversight

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We don’t blame incoming Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto for being skeptical about the city’s finances.

Mr. Peduto, who will be sworn in Monday, has rightly said he wants Pittsburgh to remain under state fiscal oversight because he’s worried about what his team will discover when they can dig into the books as administration insiders. One need only look at the recent admissions from former Mayor Tom Murphy regarding the city’s trip to the ledge of bankruptcy a decade ago to understand Mr. Peduto’s fear.

Turn the clock back further to 1994, when Mr. Murphy was publicly mute about the city’s financial problems as he lobbied for new stadiums and an expanded convention center. Those capital projects turned out to be largely positive for Pittsburgh, but the strategy of using what Mr. Murphy now admits was “blue smoke and mirrors” to balance the city’s books was unfair to taxpayers. It makes people suspect that, as Mark Twain said, there are “lies, damned lies and statistics.”

Mr. Peduto’s desire to keep the city under state oversight is not solely based on suspicions. He has solid reasons on his side, too. The city has negotiations coming up with its police and firefighter unions, and the state-appointed coordinators have wider latitude on contract terms. In addition, the city is projecting less in property tax revenue for the coming year, and almost all of an $80 million bond issue that was to last three years already has been spent.

If the city is to continue on its correction course, Pittsburgh must be able to rely on the tools provided by state oversight.

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