ICA rejects Pittsburgh budget
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The state-picked Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority today unanimously rejected Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's budget, saying that the inclusion of $16.2 million he hopes to get from a tuition tax doesn't comply with state law.
"Existing tax legislation does not yet exist" to support what would be a first-in-the-nation tuition levy, said ICA Chair Barbara McNees.
The rejection puts the process of passing a 2010 budget into uncharted waters. Mr. Ravenstahl said he may ask city council to pass the 1 percent tuition tax despite the ICA's vote, while simultaneously weighing draconian cuts or a property tax hike. City Controller Michael Lamb and Council Finance Chair William Peduto unveiled nearly $15 million in cuts and revenue improvements the city could make without slashing services -- measures like auctioning items from doomed Mellon Arena, taking extra money out of a fringe benefit account, and improving tax collection.
The vote came after Mr. Ravenstahl delivered a 15-minute rebuke to the five-member ICA, noting that four of its members have or had ties to universities, and just two are city residents.
"Four nonprofit representatives, versus two city residents. Can you be impartial, or is the deck stacked against us?" the mayor asked. "Who exactly does the ICA represent?"
Sipping on a diet Pepsi, he said the ICA doesn't stand up for cost cuts it proposes, like the proposed closing of a Greenfield fire station.
"I think the mayor's strident comments are more based on frustration and his desire for a long-term solution," said Ms. McNees.
Leaders of the firefighter and police unions urged the ICA not to reject the budget.
Mr. Lamb, though, submitted a letter that said he could not certify the reasonableness of the estimated tuition tax take.
"That decision, determination, will be made by some court at some point far off into the future," he said, making it hard to say that revenue from the tax will be available next year, when it's slated to cover higher payments into the city pension fund.
The Pittsburgh Council on Higher Education issued a press release applauding the ICA's action.
First Published November 17, 2009 10:10 am