Thursday, May 28, 2009

Bright Spot Pittsburgh

Yesterday, the latest issue of Pittsburgh Quarterly arrived in the mail. John Craig offers up a great analysis of Pittsburgh's future, but you'll have to pick up the magazine to read it. It's along the lines of what he recently penned in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. I'd bet he would have something interesting to say about the glowing account just published in the Economist:

The one bright spot in the Pew report, surprisingly, is Pittsburgh. The city and its region, once synonymous with steel, lost 120,000 manufacturing jobs in the 1980s. But over three decades it diversified. Now its main industries, health care and education, are thriving. The waterfront, once lined with factories, has been transformed into parks. Bethlehem Steel’s former home is now the site for a casino resort. Pittsburgh narrowly avoided bankruptcy in 2003, and was forced into state receivership. But it actually has a surplus now.

Pittsburgh is in relatively good shape because it largely missed the housing and dotcom booms enjoyed by the rest of the county. Indeed, it is currently building a new sports arena and a new hospital. Because of its 2003 brush with bankruptcy, it cut its city workforce by a quarter, implemented a salary freeze and made many hard decisions, such as closing fire stations. The other cities in Pew’s report could learn a few lessons from Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh held up as an example of sound municipal financial management is more than a bit ironic. Even more bizarre is the Chris Briem sighting in the article. I'm certain Chris would have shifted the discussion from budget deficits to pension funding.

Which brings me back to Craig. He brings new meaning to measured optimism. There's no reason to celebrate a budget surplus when financial disaster is lurking just around the corner. I love the positive press for Pittsburgh ... when it is warranted.

1 comment:

Schultz said...

Pittsburgh's diversified economy is a big part of the reason it is doing so well while Charlotte has one of the higher unemployment rates in the nation. Pittsburgh will hang in there, but most of the positive press fails to mention how the city and county's financial state is unsustainable. The cost of living there, despite the increasing property taxes, is still very low, but how about the cost of doing business? This is where Pittsburgh, primarily the County and City, gets a failing grade. One only needs to count the number of former city and county businesses running for Butler or Washington County border. The corporate income tax in PA is the highest in the US, so even if Allegheny County and Pittsburgh lower taxes (they won't, the city is likely to raise them) they are still at a disadvantage. Unfortunately I don't see this trend reversing anytime soon because the politicians do not realize that their attempts to raise more revenue through new taxes or tax hikes have the opposite of their intended effect.