Leaders confer on city pension problem
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A bid to fix Pittsburgh's pension problem got off to a congenial start Monday, as leaders who met in Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's office started exploring solutions to a $600 million shortfall.
"Is it a Pittsburgh-only solution? Is it a statewide solution?" Mr. Ravenstahl asked after hosting more than a dozen business, academic, union and governmental officials for a 90-minute discussion. "Everybody left the room feeling as if we all want to work together to solve this very difficult problem."
The problem is a chronic gap between the city's long-term pension obligations of $899 million and a pension fund balance last reported to be $280.7 million. Mr. Ravenstahl maintains that a $200 million infusion from leasing public parking garages and $15 million more in annual contributions would eventually close the chasm.
The panel of leaders concept emerged in December as an alternative to Mr. Ravenstahl's proposed tuition tax, which university leaders opposed. The mayor hopes the effort will result in a united approach to Harrisburg, perhaps leading to a legislative OK for tax changes.
State Sen. Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, who attended the meeting, said that mention was made of potentially expanding the city's 0.55 percent payroll tax on businesses to otherwise tax-exempt employers, or boosting the $52-a-year local services tax on people who work in the city, but there wasn't much discussion of specifics.
House Democrats were represented by Dan Frankel of Squirrel Hill and House Republicans by Mike Turzai of Bradford Woods, who did not comment after the meeting. A staff member of Sen. Jane Orie, R-McCandless, participated by phone.
Also in attendance were Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg, city Controller Michael Lamb, city council President Darlene Harris, Highmark Executive Vice President of Government Services David O'Brien, Gateway financial executive David Malone, insurance executive William K. Lieberman, development consultant John Verbanac, attorney Laura E. Ellsworth of Jones Day, Allegheny County Labor Council President Jack Shea, International Association of Firefighters Local 1 President Joe King, AFSCME District Council 84 Director Richard Caponi and Daniel Jimenez, Pitt Graduate & Professional Student Assembly president.
Invited, but unable to attend due to scheduling conflicts, were Duquesne Light Co. President Morgan O'Brien, Carlow University President Mary Hines, Carnegie Mellon University President Jared Cohon, Manchester Bidwell Corp. President Bill Strickland and Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt.
"We very well may expand the group in the future," Mr. Ravenstahl said.
He wants a second meeting in early March, when the city will provide more information on five years of cost-cutting measures. "This approach has never been really used before, and hopefully that will be helpful," he said.
Mr. Frankel called it "an outstanding beginning, in terms of open discussions and nobody digging in with positions that you can't do this, you can't do that."
First Published February 2, 2010 12:00 am