Fiscal follow-through: Council must act on the city’s financial details

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Although Pittsburgh City Council on Wednesday gave preliminary approval to a five-year financial oversight plan, that step will lead nowhere unless members follow through on the specifics.

Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, who chairs the finance committee, promised “lots of work moving forward,” but her initial characterization of the 7-0 vote (with two abstentions) was disappointing when she said it “commits us to recognizing the reality of the fiscal challenges we face but doesn’t commit us to a specific concept to deal with it.”

We well know there’s a problem. The key is doing something about it.

The five-year plan, written by the city’s state-appointed Act 47 recovery coordinators, is based on careful, professional analysis without political posturing. It takes a detailed approach that could move the city toward fiscal stability, but only if council agrees to make tough decisions.

Members don’t need to use their imagination to see what can result from a cavalier approach to planning. The city’s other oversight board, the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, has teeth that the Act 47 team lacks, and it voted Tuesday to withhold $1.4 million in gaming revenue until the city explains why it hasn’t yet met a goal, set and funded with $7 million from the ICA, of implementing a joint financial management system with Allegheny County.

This important step has taken too long. Mayor Bill Peduto, city Controller Michael Lamb and county Controller Chelsa Wagner need to work out their differences and solve this problem.

Council members offered some 17 amendments to the plan, and many of them are thoughtful and deserve to be explored. They also must address the question of revenue. If they can’t find sufficient savings, they will have to raise the property tax rate they set last year, which was too low and produced a $7 million shortfall.

They can’t put off the hard work any longer.

 

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