But a sales tax increase and expanded recreational trails system did little to prevent Pittsburgh’s slide to the brink of bankruptcy, which caused hundreds of employees to be laid off while Murphy was at the helm.
The city’s downtown did not flourish as promised after the sales tax went into effect, said Bill Urbanic, budget director for the Pittsburgh City Council. He said Murphy’s strategy caused “a fiasco with our downtown retail section” and gave tax money to for retail projects that later closed.
Murphy, who now advocates for “smart growth” for the Urban Land Institute, said Pittsburgh’s money problems, which included the city’s need to ask the state for a $40 million line of credit to pay its bills, had nothing to do with the sales tax and were instead a result of the state’s tax system.
Whether or not Murphy is more Pittsburgh savior than villain, I question the wisdom of using him to sway the voters and politicians in Des Moines. But I also wonder if what needs fixing in Pittsburgh has been and still is beyond the reach of public policy. There's a lot of finger pointing going on and not enough immigrants to blame for regional shortcomings.
If Murphy was the villain, how did he land so softly at the Urban Land Institute and then get called to Des Moines? How is Murphy an expert in Smart Growth initiatives? Is Pittsburgh a model to be emulated or avoided? My intuition tells me that things aren't as bad in Pittsburgh as some would have you believe.