Mystery Flagger of Inappropriateness

My latest post is up at Pittsburgh Magazine, this one about, of course, Lukey.

I figured picking on him while he’s traveling in Asia would be a nice, cowardly thing to do.

A snippet:

Let’s talk about local politics, and let’s do it knowing a few things for certain:

  • There will be at least a half-dozen comments left in which readers scold me for caring about local politics when I live in Westmoreland County, which might as well be Jupiter as it is so very far, far away.
  • All of those comments will be left by readers who refuse to acknowledge that as a downtown business owner, I have a stake in what happens in the ‘Burgh.
  • All of those comments and any comments in support of me will be flagged as inappropriate by the Mystery Flagger of Inappropriateness.

Be warned. I use my Jedi powers in this post.


  1. bucdaddy
    October 7, 2010 4:50 pm

    Why stop with the garages? Why not lease out the city parks, the schools, the rivers, the streets? I mean, if you’re willing to pay $50 a day to park, then paying $1 a block to drive to a downtown garage will look like a bargain.

    A tollbooth on every corner! In the words of Judge Doom, “My God: It’ll be beautiful!”

  2. unsatisfied
    October 7, 2010 5:21 pm


  3. Joe K.
    October 7, 2010 5:40 pm

    Leasing the garages is a horrible idea. If we’re going to use parking money to shore up the pension fund, why do we need a middleman? And, what’s the big deal about a state takeover of the pension, they already do it for a lot of other municipalities, right? If you have a private company take over, you’ll lose representation and the parking money might flow overseas if there’s foreign ownership of the private company. With a state takeover you’d still have representation through your legislator. If memory serves, one of the bidders was the same company that did it in Chicago, right? If it came from Chicago you can bet it’s corrupt and a bad deal for the folks.

  4. Ekat
    October 7, 2010 7:11 pm

    Has it been mentioned yet that Mystery Flagger of Inappropriateness would make a great band name?

  5. Pittsburgh Tom
    October 7, 2010 8:45 pm

    I have a friend who loves to point out that I pay $5 on evening and weekends to pay to park downtown while he always finds free spots. If the lease goes through and the prices go up, I’ll be searching out those free spots. Or maybe just park for free at the casino and make use of the north shore connector.

  6. Jen
    October 8, 2010 7:56 am

    Here’s the part that really ticks me off. They got a high bid of $451.7M. He plans to spend $220M to get the pension liability to the minimum level required to avoid state takeover, $110M to pay parking authority debt, with $120M left over.

    They are only planning to pay the minimum on the pension plan to avoid state takeover. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought the state was only requiring the pensions to be funded at 50% or 60% to avoid takeover. I’ve read that in order for a pension fund to be considered “healthy” it needs to be funded at 80%.

    So, rather than bring the pension fund closer to healthy range, he’s going to hold on to that extra $120M. You know that’s going to be blown in less than a year, and then there will be no more parking assets to sell if the pension fund dips back below the minimum again.

  7. Al Lambrini
    October 8, 2010 8:16 am

    thing that puzzles me is my same friends who *itch about the privatization of parking in this city are the same ones who *itch about state subsidies for the port authority which keep bus fares artificially low, as that is essentially what the city does with parking rates. I agree that LAZ is getting a monopoly concession on the meters and controls the amount of parking garages which can be built, but it is more of a free market solution than we had under the Parking Authority. I can understand also why people do not like the use of proceeds which I also think is a pain, but as for government subsidies on parking rates going away you would think they would be happy.

  8. Just A Simple Man
    October 8, 2010 8:32 am

    The fire sale of public properties is the new trend.
    However, giving up long term revenue streams for short term budget fixes may not be in the best interest of the people of Pittsburgh. Other cities have been “shortchanged” in this process and I do not have the confidence in the current administration to make the right decision.

    Read more here:

  9. Todd
    October 8, 2010 9:09 am

    ” And, what’s the big deal about a state takeover of the pension, they already do it for a lot of other municipalities, right?”
    Pittsburgh’s then obligated to pay the state AT LEAST an additional $12M a year – which will decimate quality of life services in the city, and necessitate cuts in public safety. Look no further than the state secretaries own words, “”It would not be imminent disaster. Clearly, it would be a shock to the system, but that shock to the system would be something they’d have three years to prepare for.” The man who will double the size of his department, and become a bigger cheese in Harrisburg, trying to sell this non-plan is forced to tell the obvious….not an imminent disaster, but a disaster nonetheless.

    And Jen….
    Please let me know where anyone in Ravenstahl’s administration said that the $120 would not be put in the fund. Fact is they haven’t. Fact is few folks bother with facts, they just hate Lukey, and shoot from the hip.

    The Post-Gazette, the conservative Allegheny Institute, and even “progressive” bloggers like The Pittsburgh Comet see this as the only solution. And until we have another one (not just a Power Point without data from Controller Mike Lamb), this is the only responsible plan out there to solve a not-so-imminent disaster.

  10. Angry Mongo
    October 8, 2010 9:09 am

    I’m just throwing this out there and I could be way off base… then feel free to call me IdiotMongo all you want.

    This covers the PAT debt and the pension with 120 million leftover.

    So, what happens the next time either one of those two things gets into trouble? You don’t think it will happen once in the next 50 years?

  11. Joe K.
    October 8, 2010 10:29 am

    @ Todd:

    An additional 12 million a year? So what? The last city budget was $454 million, no? So that’s less than 3% of the budget. Three years would be plenty of time to make that adjustment.

    I look at this way, we’re going to pay more no matter what. Do you want to pay a *little* more to the state and retain some local control, or pay a LOT more for parking with privatization? If parking goes private I bet within less than ten years there will be no such thing a parking space in the city for less than $20.

  12. Al Lambrini
    October 8, 2010 10:44 am

    @ joe K My guess is the political ramifications of doing that to city workers’ pensions (who are one of the largest voting blocs in the city) make capitualtion untenable for any adminsitration

  13. Dumbfounded
    October 8, 2010 12:12 pm

    Al Lambrini: I think you beg the question: doing WHAT exactly to city workers’ pensions??? No one – not the administration, not city council, not the media, etc. etc. has intelligently explained to anyone what exactly will happen if the state takes over these pensions. Are we drinking the koolaid once again, or is there seriously an unacceptable downside to either the public or city workers to the state taking over? I’m not scolding, I’m asking, because I honestly don’t know, and I think we all need to know before drinking Luke’s koolaid once again. My guess is that absolutely nothing will change as to 90% of the city workforce, with only non-union and maybe one particular union being forced to raise their contribution rates from some ridiculously low amount to the same level that every other city and state worker is already understandably required to pay. And isn’t this a fair request of the very people who benefit from the drastic action that is being contemplated???

    And as for the comment that the state secretary’s staff will double if it takes over pgh’s pension – are you kidding me? The state has 75,000 employees, the city has 3,000 – and give credit where credit is due – the state obviously has its pension under better control than the city’s, so again, city employees would rather remain with the crew that has driven their collective pension ship into an iceberg than hop aboard a life boat at this point? Oddly absent from this entire discussion is the voice of the average worker – probably because they’ve been plied w/koolaid and haven’t been given the basic answer to the basic question I ask here: Rich Lord, would you please call someone at the state and ask them how exactly a state takeover will benefit/harm non-union employees, and then each separate city union. If the answer is that this would result in only a mild upset, then the next question should be why is it then, that Lukey doth protest so much? Another childish temper tantrum, or is it the same-old, same-old, that LAZ, Lukey and the “network” mis-managing the pension have something to gain from keeping the pensions under their control for the new few years?

  14. Todd
    October 8, 2010 12:34 pm

    Thanks, JoeK, for displaying your lack of knowledge. The majority of the budget is taken up by debt service and public safety costs, the great majority of which can’t be touched. So, you find 12 million in additional revenue or cuts, and then we’ll talk (and again, that’s the lowest possible estimate), cause of now, none of the 9 city councilpeople or the controller have.

    “And as for the comment that the state secretary’s staff will double if it takes over pgh’s pension – are you kidding me?”
    Um, he’s currently in charge of 1.2 billion in assets, a take-over would nearly double that. Your status in Hburg is dependent on what you oversee. Familiar with Harrisburg? Or do you depend on Rich Lord for all your info. Now, I shouldn’t have made the size of his staff the issue, but address Allen’s quote.
    Network, blah, blah, childish, Lukey, instead of Kool-aid, you drank the Hateraid. Address facts, dumb-founded, not conspiracy theories that failed to connect any dots because the PG knew they couldn’t substantiate what they were so itching to say, or the misinformed, albeit humorous rants of our blogging friends.

  15. Al Lambrini
    October 8, 2010 1:07 pm

    @ Dumbfounded well I am not sure how it is with public sector defined benefit pensions but when a private obligator walks away from its pension obligations the government via a Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation steps in sometimes whan a pension is hopelessly underfunded the PBGC steps in on its own. Well to make a log story short PBGC has a work out plan where it allows a maximum guaranteed benefit. In most cases this amount currently 54,000 per year is a serious haircut for pensioners not to mention the loss of their healthcare coverage. I am not sure how this would work with Pittsburgh workers, but I am guessing if the state takes over that pension there are going to serious haircuts on benefits

  16. elysianfantasy
    October 8, 2010 1:39 pm

    Not only am I p*ssed about the parking lease option, I’m p*ssed about the residential permit parking program. Last year, it cost me only $5 to renew. This year, I’m paying $20! How in the world could it have quadrupled over one year?! So not only are they trying to gouge downtown visitors, business owners, and employees they’re certainly gouging local residents. And where is this mystery money going? The administration and council is very good at letting money sit unused (hello, Drink Tax!!!) and instead of doing something worthwhile with it, they try to figure out more ways to snow us. *end rant*

  17. Dumbfounded
    October 8, 2010 4:27 pm

    Thank you Al Lambrini for your thoughtful reply – but I think once again this makes my point that we really don’t know what the ramifications are of a state takeover. Is it the equivalent of bankruptcy, where the underlying union contracts are voided? I really don’t think so, but again, I may be wrong.

    Todd: Er, Yoron Zober, maybe if you kids spent more time in the office doing your jobs and less time touring the world (your little trip to China has international incident written all over it), you would come up with intelligent ideas on your own and wouldn’t need to simply do what your handlers tell you to do. Everybody knows public safety is a huge part of the budget. Everybody also knows that the current administration doesn’t have the foggiest idea how to manage. I agree with the comment above that $12 million seriously isn’t that much – start hiring people based on their abilities to manage instead of on their ability to contribute to Luke’s coffers, and if you want to start with public safety, make the tough calls when it comes to public safety philosophy – hire a director that has a clue.

  18. Jen
    October 9, 2010 6:59 am


    That $120M figure is from the Trib article I linked. I haven’t seen a retraction prompted by a denial by the mayor’s office. I assure you that if it weren’t true the mayor’s office would be shouting to high heaven. If you saw a retraction somewhere, or a denial printed somewhere else, please share.