I think it’s good news. You?

Reports are that City Council will vote to kill the parking lease bill as it has little to no support from council.

My first reaction to this mirrored Bram’s as in, “Why the hell did you make the big legal to-do about acquiring data about the pension plan if you were just going to nix the lease before analyzing the data? You haven’t gotten the report on that data yet have you? Lukey is going to be pissed because he did try to give you what you wanted, but now it appears you were just publicly making him jump through hoops only to pull the trampoline away at the last second. Not cool, City Council. You’re just as bad as the mayor.”

But I went to Bill Peduto with this question via twitter direct message:

Where is council on analyzing the data provided by the Mayor’s staff, as requested in the subpoena? Was it analyzed already?

His response:

it was sent to Secretary Allen of PA Municipal Retirement Systems on Friday at 10 AM -staff “scrubbed” it this weekend and are working to get add’l info from Mayor -actuarial assumptions – need raw data to determine rates -mortality, termination, disability, etc – then he will create valuation of the plan and come up with payment for 30 yrs to get it 100 percent funded & create new plan for new employees, too.

Ah. That makes sense. But just to confirm, I asked:

So the data wasn’t so much requested to form an opinion on the lease, but more to come up with alternative plans to fund and manage the pension?

He confirmed that was the case.

This is good. The data wasn’t just requested as a hoop of fire for Lukey to jump through. Council is using the data to look at alternatives to the parking lease plan.

I am against the plan to lease out the garages and meters for 50 years, and I’m hopeful that a plan can be devised that doesn’t raise parking rates to ridiculously high prices and one that takes a real look at how the pension got into so much trouble and what can be done to fix it and then make sure it doesn’t happen again.

I feel better already.

At least that’s how I feel as I sit here wearing my PittGirl Cult of Personality Rose-Colored Glasses.





50 Comments

  1. Al
    October 12, 2010 2:22 pm

    PittGirl Cult of Personality Rose-Colored Glasses

    Are those available with country lenses?



  2. Bram R
    October 12, 2010 2:43 pm

    For him, no the data wasn’t all that necessary to form an opinion on the lease. ;-) For ideological, political and I’m guessing trust issues.

    For others it might be, only because depending upon the data, the alternative plans may turn out to be workable / unworkable or require our own modest / high hikes in parking rates or tolerable / intolerable amounts of debt. I greatly respect your BF[frenemy]F Doug Shields for being no fan of the Lease by any stretch but still wanting to wait to double-check everything.

    I don’t love discovering through your research that STILL MORE data is having a hard time making its way over there. Thanks for link.



  3. BrianTH
    October 12, 2010 2:54 pm

    I hope it is just bluster, and the lease eventually goes through.

    There is no magical plan that painlessly pays off the pension, and long-term pension reform really has to come from the state, not the City.

    Meanwhile, the alternatives to the parking lease just kick all the difficult choices down the road a bit, by taking out more debt to stick into the pension. Supposedly that debt will be paid off with increased parking revenues (meaning rate increases)–but no one making that claim is showing their numbers, and they also aren’t explaining where all the capital investments that the parking assets will need are going to come from, and so on.

    And the whole discussion of rates has been highly misleading anyway. It makes no sense that a parking operator would price themselves out of business, and subsidized parking is bad public policy in any event. Local business owners (cough-cough) are happy to have other people subsidize their patrons’ parking, but in truth if subsidizing their patrons’ parking is really necessary for their business, they can do so themselves by working with the parking operator.

    But of course Council can score cheap political points by opposing rate increases and shuffling around liabilities instead of paying them down, because very few people are going to take the time to really understand the issues. So that’s exactly what they are doing.



  4. Serenity Now
    October 12, 2010 3:23 pm

    No mistake, the pension fund is in peril.

    But does anyone else visualize a band of directionless howler monkeys screeching “the sky is falling” every time the mayor’s office opens its vacuous trap? I no more take their claims of urgency seriously than I do their proposals to avert “certain” disaster. Council is right to call a time out (- and speaking of howler monkeys, Doug Shields has merely ascertained another “look at me” moment – as the senior member of council, he’s just as responsible as the nitwits across the hall to anticipate such obvious debacles as the pension situation and to create solutions while he ties up a seat at taxpayers’ expense) As far as I’m concerned, given Luke’s repeated absences over the course of his time as mayor, I don’t blame council for treating him as irrelevant. Just think about it -he’s NEVER at work – absent the day the problem (whatever it happens to be – snow or pension funds) was discovered, absent the day the solutions were debated… he doesn’t take his job seriously, so why should anyone take him or his billion dollar solution seriously? I know that sounds rash, but I think we are all justifiably fed up with supposition, conjecture, pontification about what is really going on, on this and other issues. I don’t share Bram’s oddly rosy optimism/amnesia over the sham we Pittsburghers have endured at the hands of this administration on so many fronts over the last few years. I smell a rat. Congratulations to council and Mike Lamb for stepping up. The mayor’s office didn’t do the math, they didn’t do their due diligence, they, as usual, did what they were told by their handlers. Let’s hope that adults like Mike Lamb and Natalia Rudiak will finish the job.



  5. Serenity Now
    October 12, 2010 3:40 pm

    P.S. Of course a private operator isn’t going to price itself out of business. But a private parking garage operator could care less who occupies its spaces. They will push the rates to their highest limits w/o losing patrons – whoever they may be. I’m not a downtown business owner, and I guess the same rather cold argument can be made that most business owners don’t care who is buying their wares, so long as people are buying, but I don’t know? That’s where subsidies come into play – of which I am not a fan – but someone once told me that a primary function of government is to provide subsidies whether in the form of jobs, grants used to create jobs or just opportunities – like discounted bus fare – to allow the average person an opportunity to get their foot in a door they may not otherwise every open. Discounted public parking means that the average person may take a trip to town that they may otherwise not have, eat at a restaurant they may otherwise not have and buy stuff at a downtown store they would otherwise not enter. High rates means they go to a mall instead. Which is better? If it’s all about free market/bottom line, well then I guess it doesn’t matter. But I think that Pittsburgh isn’t all about “that”?



  6. Scott
    October 12, 2010 3:49 pm

    All good points, but now we’re back to square one. Where’s the money going to come from?



  7. BrianTH
    October 12, 2010 4:35 pm

    I’m definitely not against subsidies in all cases, but parking subsidies specifically generally aren’t a good idea. Parking subsidies encourage excess driving, and excess driving leads to excess congestion, sprawl, pollution, traffic accidents, and so on. So if you want to subsidize transportation–and that is a good idea in general–you are better off subsidizing public transportation, not parking.



  8. unsatisfied
    October 12, 2010 4:59 pm

    damn it……I was looking forward to all of the nice new perks, such as better lighting and someone at the customer service booth being ready to wipe my ass at a moment’s notice.



  9. Bitter
    October 12, 2010 5:02 pm

    Lukey’s good friends with President Obama now. I wonder why he hasn’t asked for a bailout.



  10. Just A Simple Man
    October 12, 2010 5:27 pm

    @Bitter

    Because then the “books” might need to be opened for all to see…. just sayin?



  11. CRT
    October 12, 2010 5:35 pm

    What BrianTH said. Parking rates in the city of Pittsburgh, and indeed in most urban areas, are massively underpriced when one considers the negative externalities caused by automobiles. Felix Salmon estimates that each and every car driven into Manhattan imposes $160 in costs EVERY DAY, just on lost productivity alone, not including environmental, public safety, and psychological (read: sprawl/stress) costs.

    http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2009/07/03/how-driving-a-car-into-manhattan-costs-160/

    Now, that’s likely much lower in Pittsburgh, but still…no one driving their car (either in Pittsburgh or Manhattan) actually pays that externality. Indeed, they have their parking subsidized through zoning laws mandating abundant parking, concessionary rates, etc. So driving a car looks cheaper than it actually is, relative to taking a cab or a bus or the T.

    Moreover, as has been said here a couple of times, profit-maximizing firms in the parking business lose money on every space left unfilled (especially when they’ve just leased the assets and haven’t been able to depreciate them on their balance sheet). So they’re going to set rates to ensure that every last spot is filled. Serenity Now concedes this, but wonders if once the subsidy is gone, people will go to a mall instead of an urban business. There are two responses to this, both of which are admittedly callous. First, Hornes hasn’t been downtown for quite a while. To the extent urban areas are trying to compete with malls, they’re not just losing, they’ve already lost. People go downtown mostly to work (not always–see point 2), and those people are going to demonstrate relatively inelastic demand in the face of rising parking prices — put another way, PNC and UPMC and K&L Gates aren’t going to move to the Waterfront because parking prices have doubled. Second, the entertainment and cultural value of an urban center is not to be discounted, but is of an entirely different stripe than what is available at the mall — and it just shouldn’t try to compete with it. Indeed, to the extent that rising parking prices increases demand for taxis and public transit, it will inure to the benefit of urban retail and entertainment providers, who need to have a different profit model than the Gap. In fact, if they don’t have a different profit model than the Gap, and they’re so reliant on cheap parking as opposed to catering to those who live and work in the city on quality/environment/value, they should look into leasing space in Ross Park Mall. I know that when I go out shopping or for dinner or drinks in a city, any city, the whole point is the uniqueness of the experience, the vibrancy of the neighborhood, indeed, buying/eating/experiencing things I wouldn’t find at the mall. Moreover, that experience, in my opinion, would benefit from less cars all around gumming up the works, and more taxis and buses and light rail zipping me and other yuppie neoliberals around. It’s what a city should be.

    In sum, I don’t know if the private lease was the best idea, but I do know it wasn’t bad per se just because parking rates would go up. They SHOULD go up.



  12. Scott
    October 12, 2010 5:53 pm

    CRT, you might want to start your own blog.

    Wow. Verbose.



  13. Joe K.
    October 12, 2010 7:33 pm

    I think it’s good news. With parking, for things like sports and entertainment, people are more likely to grin & bear whatever the cost of parking is. With shopping & dining, not so much.

    @CRT: While light rail might be nice, fact is we love our cars and Pittsburgh’s public and taxi transit isn’t as developed as other cities so IMO the parking cost should be kept affordable. There’s a fine line between “uniqueness of the city experience” and old, cramped, and crowded, which is why parking costs becomes more of a factor for shopping and dining.

    The question is about raising revenue, and I never could see a good reason to get a middleman involved in that for 50 years. And I really don’t think a state takeover of the pension will end up being a big deal.



  14. BeauJacques
    October 12, 2010 8:00 pm

    awww, poor (figure of speech) Merril Stabile, owner of ALCO (all the lots NOT owned by US, the taxpayers)

    He’ll just have to make do with the gouging he continues to do after the city LOWERED parking taxes
    to REDUCE parking rates to help downtown business,

    and that scum-sucking, son of a whore Stabile simply pocketed the money!

    Like a Nutting!!

    I hope he chokes on his next lunch @ at the Harvard-Yale-Princeton Club!



  15. BeauJacques
    October 12, 2010 8:04 pm

    PS- @CRT-

    Stop sniffing glue!

    It needs to go down!

    Whose payroll are YOU on?? ALCO? Lukey’s? Danny’s?



  16. gunnlino
    October 12, 2010 10:00 pm

    Why is it that “the State” has got to rescue the pension fund ? It has been mismanaged for so long by whom ? The CITY, of course. Luke and all the other mayors before him.
    Instead of raising more taxes and other stuff why not just make some cuts in some wages (like dept heads ) .
    Why is it that so many feel so entitled to being taken care of ? There’s a lot more but for the sake of not being verbose I’ll let you figure that out.
    And, about cutting cops and firefighters . Let them do that and then wait for the next election and see what happens to that union support.



  17. Timmy
    October 12, 2010 11:21 pm

    @gunnlino: You mean all the DEMOCRATIC mayors before him?

    The idiot unions, WHOSE MEMBERS RELY ON THESE PENSIONS, continue to support all democratic candidates. Why don’t we just let the unions figure out how to fund their own damn pensions… having elected these people into office in the first place. Instead, joe blow will once again foot the bill.



  18. Greg
    October 13, 2010 7:04 am

    What I find stunning, is that the City, the Parking Authority, is incapable of running parking lots and parking meters.

    Why do they need to be leased out to the private sector to gouge us? Can’t the City just gouge us themselves and cut out the middle man? Wouldn’t they be able to gouge us less than a private company and still increase their revenue?



  19. CRT
    October 13, 2010 7:53 am

    @Scott:

    Point well taken. I’ll keep this one short.

    @JoeK:

    Oh, that’s cute. You love your car, do you? That’s nice. You know what I don’t love? Sitting in the Liberty Tubes for 35 minutes. I do, however, love the polar ice caps and I would like to keep as much of them as I can. The fact that you love your car begs the question — you love your car because you don’t really have to pay for the costs it imposes on the rest of us. Enjoy your subsidized gasoline and subsidized parking and keep that torrid love affair going, though. I’m sure that, like all other love affairs, it will have a happy ending.

    @Greg:

    I’d point you to Bram’s blog; he rebuts your point much better than I could. Suffice it to say that I think, often, Council over-estimates the power of government to do things better than private industry, and not all public-private partnerships are corrupt and dirty (as some of the pedantic “progressives” [cough, cough] on Council might have us believe).

    http://pghcomet.blogspot.com/2010/10/world-is-round-so-arguments-are.html

    @BeauJacques:

    Nope. Not feeding you.



  20. Bulldog
    October 13, 2010 9:16 am

    Wow, “subsidized gasoline”? Seems like someone has been drinking the kool aid way too much. Considering all the federal and state taxes that added to the price of a gallon of gas it is entirely illogical to claim that drivers benefit from government subsidized gas. Subsidized parking? Really? And who in government is subsidizing the parking in ALCO’s lots with our tax dollars? I’m pretty sure that government is quite happily taking thier cut of the pie that drivers pay to park around the city. But then again, using another blogger’s post as an authoritative reference when said blogger himself admits he doesn’t understand the work, calls into question the entire validity of the argument.



  21. JT
    October 13, 2010 9:29 am

    Maybe CRT should move into one of the publicly subsidized condos downtown and can then walk to work. I’d rather sit in traffic in my car rather than give a dime to PAT



  22. BeauJacques
    October 13, 2010 9:36 am

    The City lowered parking tax rates to allow the operators to LOWER the rates, to ENCOURAGE downtown shopping (not just give a break to K-L Gates) and the whores took the tax break, and didn’t lower a thing but residents’ collective underwear, prior to a sexual act.

    The City should “eminent domain” ALCO’s lots for the general benefit.

    @CRT, @Serenity – Why soo many diff screen names?



  23. Scott
    October 13, 2010 9:56 am

    So again, guys….now where is the money to cover the shortcoming going to come from?

    Anyone? Anyone….?



  24. CRT
    October 13, 2010 10:15 am

    @Bulldog:

    Yes. Subsidized gasoline.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/12/AR2010061200167.html

    http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6103RM20100201

    Even if you take the taxes out, we’re still talking a “real” price for gas of anywhere from 5-11 bucks a gallon.

    Parking is subsidized as well, for the same reasons Mr. Klein describes in the op-ed posted above, but also it’s self-evident: if the private operators of a parking garage would raise rates, that means that rates are artificially low now, hence, subsidized. Put another way, someone’s keeping ALCO and City lots in business, and it ain’t customers.

    @JT:

    I do take public transportation, actually. I also walk. I still have to deal with crowded streets and air pollution and the threat of terrorism because of people like you, who aren’t paying full freight for imposing that cost on me. I unfortunately don’t own a publicly subsidized condo, but I’d argue that subsidizing walkable neighborhoods (and, incidentally, public transit) is better public policy for an urban government than subsidizing parking.

    @BeauJacques:

    I’m not Serenity.



  25. BrianTH
    October 13, 2010 10:33 am

    A few points (and no apologies for length):

    (1) Again, a private operator has no interest in seeing spots go unfilled during non-work hours, if there is potential demand for those spots. At most what removing subsidies for parking will do is shift the mix of local non-work uses upscale, but it won’t eliminate them because that isn’t in the parking operator’s interests.

    (2) Whether or not a bunch of politicians can operate the parking assets as efficiently as a for-profit company is a matter subject to debate (although I tend to think that is likely to be a rather one-sided debate). But what is not really subject to debate is that in order to maintain and operate these parking assets at an equally high level of service, the City would have to find hundreds of millions more dollars to invest in its parking system over the next few years.

    Where is that money going to come from? Again, this is in ADDITION to needing to find money for the pension–do we really think the City is going to be willing and able to invest those hundreds of millions to invest in parking, particularly if the City has not in fact reduced its financial liabilities but instead merely shifted them around?

    (3) So that’s part of the response to the “middleman” argument–the operator would not be just a middleman, but in fact would be bringing hundreds of millions of dollars of new investment in the City’s parking system along with them.

    But the other part of the response is to consider that the revenues from parking over the next 50 years are by no means certain. Certain people on Council like to throw around the $2.4 billion number as if it was set in stone, but that is just an average estimate, and for various reasons it could well be much less. The very same study took those risk factors into account when calculating the present value of the assets, and came up with a present value of $400 million–well less than what was bid.

    Generally, from a purely financial perspective the City should not be investing in assets within the City, because that means it is concentrating its risks, which is a bad idea. Now of course it does invest in City assets in order to provide better amenities for City residents, and it accepts the financial consequences of doing so as part of the price of serving the City. But to pull this all together, in this case the City is going to end up with a WORSE parking system because the City is insisting on retaining control of the assets, instead of bringing in an outside investor.

    Oh well. People don’t like change, and particularly don’t like change that takes the form of increasing prices, so it won’t be surprising if Council takes the easy way out. But make no mistake, they would be making a very bad policy choice, and the City will likely end up worse off as a result.



  26. bucdaddy
    October 13, 2010 10:50 am

    I do, however, love the polar ice caps and I would like to keep as much of them as I can.

    I wonder how many people who “love the polar ice caps” have ever actually seen one in person. How do we know for sure they even exist? Manhattan is an island (I know, I’ve seen it) with eleventy-billion people living on it and land values of a trillion dollars a square inch. If the sea levels were really rising, Manhattan would be the size of a throw rug and all those people would be stacked up to the moon, and we’d hear the wailing about shrinking land mass all the way over here.

    But we don’t.

    Not that I wish we wouldn’t. I live for the day when my West Virginia hillside is beachfront property.



  27. Scott
    October 13, 2010 10:59 am

    So again….where’s the pension money going to come from?!

    I think there should be a rule, you can slam the City on their plans only if you have a viable alternate solution. I have yet to see one in any of the comments here.



  28. Maybe This Time
    October 13, 2010 11:12 am

    Okay, here’s my plan: We cut the 50-year lease down to 10 or 15 — the approximate amount of time we’ll have to put up with Lukey till he moves on to county executive and thence to the Governor’s mansion, a la (he wishes) Onorato. That way he only gets to screw things up for as long as he’s around to (mwah-ha-ha) be held accountable. (As if.)

    Then we take the lesser amount of money from this shorter-term lease and we put ALL of it — ALL — into the pension so this corrupt government can’t piss away the remainder on their pet little projects that serve no purpose except to buy their base’s loyalty.

    SHort term financial benefit balanced against long-term risk to the fiscal prudence and (theoretically) responsible government.

    I know — brilliant.



  29. BrianTH
    October 13, 2010 11:37 am

    I think you would maybe need a 25-30 year lease to get enough money to pay off the parking debt, get a decent amount for the pension, and get a sufficient investment in upgrading the assets. But I agree in light of what we know now, 50 years doesn’t seem necessary.



  30. Joe K.
    October 13, 2010 12:23 pm

    @ Scott:

    The money comes from ‘Burghers one way or another, whether through parking fees or taxes, now we won’t just have J.P. Morgan in the middle of it.



  31. Serenity Now
    October 13, 2010 12:24 pm

    Scott,

    What’s wrong with a state takeover? An exercise in logic: If you believe the administration’s claim that there truly is an emergency and that the only choice is to either layoff public safety workers or be eaten by the state, the only rational conclusion you can reach is that the city administration is completely inept – it has no foresight, it is constantly crying wolf and its answer to every financial crisis (which seems to disappear and reappear as political scenarios present) is the most extreme measure imagineable. If the administration is inept, they should not be trusted with administration of their pension fund. The state pension fund is supposedly on pretty solid footing, so seriously, why aren’t city workers clamoring to join the state? Until Scott can explain why a state takeover is such a terrible alternative, I see no need for further discussion of the parking garage red herring.



  32. Joe K.
    October 13, 2010 12:25 pm

    @CRT:

    How is my car subsidized? I have to buy it an pay insurance and registration fees every year. Yes, the roads are publicly funded, but that’s what the public wants.



  33. BrianTH
    October 13, 2010 12:53 pm

    If the City doesn’t do the lease, it will instead have to issue new debt. That brings the City right back into the arms of the JP Morgans of the world. That is a red herring–such financial intermediaries will be involved in ANY plan.

    As for drawing conclusions from the dire state of the pension, I would note a few things:

    (A) State law dictates that the police and fire unions can take any contract dispute to binding arbitration. The City simply doesn’t have the power to unilaterally renegotiate their pension terms;

    (B) State law also provides a contribution to distressed pension funds using a tax on out-of-state insurance (a tax which, of course, is paid by companies and consumers in Pittsburgh, as well as elsewhere in the state). But the state’s contribution amount is based on the number of ACTIVE employees, not the number of pensioners. Accordingly, when the City cuts its employee count–as it has been doing recently–the state then cuts its contribution to Pittsburgh’s pension fund.

    (C) Finally, state law provides a reorganization process for financially distressed municipalities, which Pittsburgh has entered, but the state’s plan for Pittsburgh has dictated that it honor its existing pension obligations, and this same plan would be followed even if Pittsburgh actually entered a federal bankruptcy process.

    So what exactly is the City supposed to do right now to fix its long-term pension problems? It isn’t in control of the terms of its labor contracts, and it can’t simply cut employees without also losing state pension funding, and the state won’t let it reduce its existing pension obligations.

    All that said, I’m not opposed to the Burgess plan, which would put all the money in the pension fund and then turn over managing the fund to the state anyway. But note that plan, like all of the possible plans, doesn’t somehow address all of these problems: the state is still going to make the City fulfill its pension obligations, and the City still won’t be in control of the size of those obligations.



  34. CRT
    October 13, 2010 12:55 pm

    (warning–long)

    @JoeK:

    I explain it above (or, rather, Reuters and Ezra Klein do), but let me walk through it. First, your car wouldn’t go anywhere if you didn’t put gasoline in it. The price you pay for gasoline is (a) influenced by heavy direct subsidies on oil and gas production from the federal government; and (b) does not include incredible indirect subsidies in the form of other drivers, non-drivers, and the public bearing the cost of externalities caused by you driving. To borrow Mr. Klein’s example, the taxpayers will foot most of the bill for the clean up of the oil spill in the Gulf. They foot the bill for expensive military boondoggles in a part of the world that would be much less important and much more stable were it not for gasoline. They foot the bill for smog, lost productivity due to traffic, cost-push inflation in other goods due to oil price shocks, and occasionally being the victim of a hit-and-run. You, when you purchase your gasoline, don’t pay for those things. It’s the same as if you ran a bottled water company downstream from a paper mill, and had to pay extra to purify the water because the paper mill dumped crap in upstream. It’s called an externality, and most economists think the most efficient allocation of an externality is to force the person who can avoid its occurrence (in this situation, you) to pay the true cost. You don’t. This is all the more true in a commuter context where I live in the city and pay taxes for roads and services, and you drive in from the suburbs and clog the streets without paying into the kitty.

    The same goes for parking. As we’ve noted here, a private operator would charge more for parking not out of spite but rather because it can charge more and still sell all the spaces. This means that parking is artificially cheap. Another example–if I bought the land from the city on which one of its garages sits, and built an office building on it and leased it out to private businesses, that land becomes a lot more profitable instantaneously. But because of zoning restraints and political considerations (read: whiny drivers), we need to have a certain amount of parking in each area. In an extreme example, many cities (including Long Beach, CA and Washington, DC) require up to 20 parking spaces per 1000 foot of floor space for bars, which basically encourages people to drive drunk. (I couldn’t find Pittsburgh’s zoning regs online, but I bet there’s something similar). Those parking spaces take up chunks of land that could be put to more productive uses, and (along with public ownership of parking) keep parking artifically abundant and cheap.

    I’m also glad you bring up roads, and not just because city taxpayers pay for you to drive in from 9-5 and clog them up for free. You say that’s what the public “wants,” but there’s no evidence of that. For example, in DC, housing prices in Fairfax and outer MoGo/PG counties have dropped by nearly 50% during the recession, but prices in the District and in Arlington (i.e., walkable neighborhoods with fewer cars and more public transit), prices are only down 20%. People are willing to pay more to avoid having to drive. The only reason we demand bigger highways and more automobile access to the detriment of public transit is that zoning laws (mandatory parking spaces, lack of mixed-use zoning, etc.), which basically forces the population into automobiles. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our cars, but in ourselves.

    (again, apologies for the length and rantiness — this a pet issue of mine and it’s frustrating when people don’t get it).



  35. JennyMoon
    October 13, 2010 1:11 pm

    Those are some of THE longest comments in the history of comments.



  36. Tim
    October 13, 2010 1:20 pm

    Tell me again why I should give a damn about the city pension?



  37. Bulldog
    October 13, 2010 1:55 pm

    What shape exactly would the city’s coffers be in without the tens of thousands of commuters who’s job DIRECTLY support their existence? I’m just as sick of whiny city residents who decry all the bad suburbanites that swarm upon the city uninvited like infestations of stink bugs. Led by the great bow-wonder, brainiac of Grant Street these folks constantly wage an us-against-them battle while perched upon their perceived throne of uprightness. Spare me. The roads into Pittsburgh are for the most part two-way streets and function just as much for city-dwellers to exit as for suburbanites to enter. This simple fact of the matter is that the city would suffer immensely without the suburbs, and vice-versa.

    Every single point that CRT attmepts to make has been factually refuted time and again in this and many other places, and I don’t think most readers here care to get into it. So I’ll just address one of his examples where he states “if I bought the land from the city on which one of its garages sits, and built an office building on it and leased it out to private businesses, that land becomes a lot more profitable instantaneously.”

    Building more office space in a downtown area with a well-documented glut of office space is ludicrous. The vacancy rate of downtown offices is ridiculously high and has done nothing but continue to climb since well before the start of the recession. So I don’t know how anyone would even try to argue that the land would become more profitable instantaneously.



  38. CRT
    October 13, 2010 2:17 pm

    @Bulldog:

    The last refuge of the person without facts to support their argument is to call their position self-evident. I didn’t see where you refuted Felix Salmon’s calculation on the actual cost of automobiles in Manhattan, or Ezra Klein’s position on underpriced gasoline, or the argument against zoning as mandating sprawl (as promulgated by Richard Florida, Matt Yglesias and many others). Perhaps I missed it. More likely, you’ve simply grown used to people not calling you on the fact that by driving you support pollution, terrorism, and lost productivity without having to pay for it.

    On the parking garage/office space analogy, perhaps that was poorly phrased, but I don’t think current overprovision of office space disproved my point, because again, you’ve ignored pricing. I am at work so I can’t do the exact calculations, but I bet that tenants of office space downtown pay orders of magnitude more per square foot than do persons who park their cars in the garage next door. That was my only point.



  39. CRT
    October 13, 2010 2:23 pm

    And just for the record I don’t begrudge your decision to live in the suburbs and commute into the city. That’s your choice. If you want to keep driving through the tunnels in an escalade every day that’s your call. But I do think you should have to pay the costs you impose on me through your choice, and i also think you should pay more than 52 bucks a year in commuter tax for the services that make your choice practicable.



  40. Bulldog
    October 13, 2010 2:46 pm

    To begin with I never stated or even implied that my position is self-evident, I simply noted that even the writer of the blog you referenced noted that he himself didn’t understand the calculations.

    As for self-centered people like you calling me out for supporting pollution, terrorism and lost productivity, you have now demonstrated that your ignorance knows no limits. You don’t have a clue what sort of vehicle I drive or whether or not I use mass transit of any type, you just jump to conclusions and assert that I’m “imposing costs” on you which again is absolutely ludicrous. The tax dollars that surburbanites pump into the city coffers through our companies taxes and the taxes that we pay on food, parking, entertainment, etc. more than offset the meager services provided by the city. The $52 is a pitance compared to what the city takes in from those either employed here or entertained here.

    As for your ignorant assertion that I am supporting terrorism, I’ll have you know that I am a highly decorated Veteran who served for over 25 in the United States Navy, including service in the Gulf War. DO NOT ever lecture me about supporting terrorism when you don’t have clue who you’re talking to.



  41. CRT
    October 13, 2010 3:26 pm

    Thanks, with all sincerity, for your service. Perhaps fewer soldiers will have to sacrifice if we stop funneling oil money to the middle east through our behavior.

    If you don’t drive into town every day, bully for you, but query why we’re having this discussion. If you do, then you still haven’t answered my point (except to say that Bram didn’t understand the numbers on the parking lease, which really doesn’t have anything to do with this argument). I’ve cited a number of authors (other than the “blogger” you keep talking about) who have laid out the argument that driving and parking and zoning regulations work together to impose social costs, particularly in an urban area. I’ve added my own data to support my point. In response, you come in and thrown around words like “ludicrous” and “pitance” and “Veteran” like they constitute a rebuttal, but never actually address flaws in my arguments (other than, again, Bram doesn’t get finance), or those of Klein, Salmon, etc. Nor do you provide any data of your own to show that those costs don’t exist, or that having policies that encourage people to live hours outside a city, drive in and out every day, and not pay taxes to the city are a good idea. And don’t tell me how you pump money into the economy without showing me you have some viable alternative — what, if parking rates or the commuter tax goes up, you’re going to convince your employer to move out to Southpointe, or quit in protest? Good luck with that.



  42. Butcher's Dog
    October 13, 2010 4:00 pm

    Much as I hate to interrupt this mud-slinging-fest, I have a question.

    First, full disclosure. As a retired public school teacher I’m a part of the state system.

    The question is this: does a state takeover of the pension fund mean MERGER with the state’s fund? Or does it mean the state says who, when, and how much instead of the city? Is it the equivalent of “you ain’t driving this car anymore, I am, but you’re still buying the gas and insurance”? The state’s system, especially the part for teachers, is one of the best around. I’d hate personally to see it take on a toxic debt.

    Just askin’, folks. Flames to a minimum, please.



  43. Bulldog
    October 13, 2010 4:09 pm

    You throw around Klein and Salmon around as if they have some particular credence or authority worth refuting. They do not. They’re nobody. They have published no scientific or academic studies in any peer-reviewed literature on the subject. Plainly put, they are bloggers, nothing more. Their opinions carry no more weight than any one else’s.

    I have directly addressed the flaws in your arguments. Specifically where you asserted that tearing down and existing parking garage and erecting an office building in a city with a plethora of VACANT offices would immediately increase profitably which on its face makes no sense. VACANT office space is not now, nor has it ever been profitable.

    You keep making the false assertion that commuters pay no taxes to the city other than the $52 annual Emergency Services Tax and that is also as false as can be. I do not need to refute it. The facts are clear. There are numerous taxes paid to the City of Pittsburgh by those who commute here for work or play. Every time I attend a sporting event I pay an entertainment tax to the city. The City of Pittsburgh collects a share of the RAD tax of 1% of every single purchase made in this area, whether the purchase was made in the city or not. All professional athletes pay a luxury tax for every dollar they “earn” in the city, and the list goes on and on and on.

    As for you mis-appropriating Charles Kromanoff’s numbers (as reported by the blogger Salmon) to Pittsburgh, you can’t even begin to convince me that numbers that “may” be applicable to Manhattan have any relevance to Pittsburgh.

    As for producing data of my own proving that your perceived costs do not exist, the old saying about disproving a negative applies. My point is that any net costs that commuters MAY be imposing upon you and your fellow city dwellers is more than balanced out by the reciprocal costs city dwellers impose upon suburbanites. After all, the Onorato tax (along with our other state taxes) are helping to subsidize the inneptly run mass transit you depend upon.

    Although I must admit, the thought that I’m “imposing” on you does have a certain appeal and will make this evening’s commute more enjoyable than it normally is.



  44. BrianTH
    October 13, 2010 4:25 pm

    Just a minor point, but office vacancies in Downtown Pittsburgh have actually been trending down, not up, during the recession. See these two reports (you can string them together to see the trend back to before the recession):

    http://www.grubb-ellis.com/SitePages/GetFileFromDB.ashx?type=9&id=741

    http://www.grubb-ellis.com/pdf/metro_off_mkttrnd/PittsburghOffice2Q2009.pdf

    By the way, I fully endorse the idea that the City and the suburbs depend on each other. But everyone seems to take that point to mean they are personally already paying their fair share, and someone else should be paying more. That doesn’t really advance the public policy discussion.



  45. CRT
    October 13, 2010 4:34 pm

    Forget it. I don’t debate with people who respond to numbers and reason with ad hominems and poor spelling. Incidentally, I cite to “bloggers” (which is funnily used as a pejorative in the COMMENTS SECTION TO A BLOG) simply because the academic literature is behind paywalls and not readily digestible for people who think mis-appropriating [sic] needs a hyphen or that inneptly [sic] has two Ns. In case I’ve again overstepped my bounds (perhaps by questioning the intelligence of someone on the internet, when they’re ACTUALLY EINSTEIN IN REAL LIFE), here are some citations for more academic papers that prove I’m right and you’re woefully mistaken:

    Michael Lewyn, How Government Regulation Forces Americans Into Their Cars: A Case Study, 16 Widener L.J. 839 (2007)

    Michael Lewyn, You Can Have it All: Less Sprawl and Property Rights Too, 80 Temple L. Rev. 1093 (2007)

    Richard Florida et al., The Rise of the Mega-Region, 1 Cambridge J. of Regions, Econ. & Soc. 459 (2008)

    Lawrence D. Frank et al., Many Pathways from Land Use to Wealth: Associations Between Neighborhood Walkability and Active Transportation, Body Mass Index, and Air Quality, 72 J. Am. Planning Soc. 75 (2006)

    Ian W.H. Parry et al., Automobile Externalities and Policies, 45 J. Econ. Lit. 373 (2007)

    N. Gregory Mankiw, Smart Taxes: An Open Invitation to Join the Pigou Club, 35 Eastern Econ. J. 14 (2009).

    Maybe, if you’re interested, you’ll take the bus to the nearest public library and read up. Or, I guess you could drive.

    Thanks again for your service.



  46. Serenity Now
    October 13, 2010 4:38 pm

    I’m with you Butcher’s Dog – and your name doesn’t get any less funny each time I read it.

    Bulldog and CRT, seriously, the city administration can’t figure out how to remove snow from my street and you want them to tackle global warming and blood for oil?

    Is there anybody out there who has relevant information to what should be the relevant question of the time: What’s the big deal if the state takes over the city pension plan? From the taxpayer’s perspective, so far, we know that the city will have to make a larger annual contribution to the plan, but we don’t know how much or whether it’s enough to justify pressing the panic button. On the other hand, from the employees’ perspective, it seems that they will be joining a much more stable plan, so why would they balk at the idea? And as for the Butcher’s Dog, I’m thinking that the idea here is for the city to succumb to the state’s rules, so I don’t think there is much concern that sucking the city pension into the state’s ginormous plan will cause the state’s to implode on itself.

    Can anyone provide an intelligent explanation for us? I feel like everyone is screaming “Fire! Bring us the biggest hose you’ve got”, but we don’t even know if there’s smoke, let alone fire – and maybe a small box of baking soda can do the trick?



  47. BeauJacques
    October 13, 2010 9:36 pm

    @CRT-

    What? You couldn’t move to Berkeley? Please??



  48. Monty
    October 13, 2010 10:00 pm

    I wish I had the time to read all this, but Brett Favre won’t stop emailing me pics of his lap bone.



  49. BrianTH
    October 14, 2010 3:00 pm

    Global warming and national security may be above the City’s paygrade, but issues like local street congestion, land use, air quality, accident rates, and so forth are definitely not.

    What we know about a state takeover is that the City, which actually means the binding arbitration panel mandated by the state, will remain in charge of benefit levels, but the state pension administrator would take over dictating to the City how it must meet those obligations.

    The state system would likely achieve some efficiencies in terms of administrative costs, but it would also assume a lower rate of return, which is why the City would have to increase its near-term contributions in order to meet a given future schedule of funding levels. As of right now, I believe we are still waiting for the state pension administrator to give us his estimate of what that schedule of increased annual contributions would look like (the City previously formed its own estimate).

    Personally, I think the lease deal is a good idea regardless of what a state takeover would mean, and in fact I like Burgess’s idea of doing the lease deal, putting all the proceeds into the pension fund, and then asking the state to take over anyway.

    Unfortunately, apparently that makes a sum total of two people who like that plan, and in fact it is looking like as a political matter, tying the lease deal to preventing a state takeover was a mistake. Basically, it has allowed people to argue that ANY plan which prevents a state takeover must be as good as any other plan, and that the best such plan is just the one with the lowest parking rates (at least that is how I can explain the fact these alternative plans have been deemed better than the lease plan without actually knowing anything in detail about these alternative plans).



  50. Larry Nicolette
    October 26, 2010 8:58 am

    Here is a link to a blog post I made about this subject

    http://tinyurl.com/22jmhx7