Revitalization money needed, state senators told by municipal officials
Senators gearing for the state’s annual budget battle heard a recurring theme on Wednesday in Pittsburgh: Municipalities need money and legislative changes to ensure their survival.
Regional officials urged members of the Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee for changes to archaic pension laws and grant regulations. They asked for continued funding of programs that beautify downtowns, build affordable housing and spur development.
Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, said it is important to tell Republican leaders, who control the state’s purse strings, how budget cuts and changes in grant regulations stunt development programs.
House Republicans on Wednesday announced a $28.3 billion budget proposal that is about $600 million more than 2012, but $110 million less than what Gov. Tom Corbett proposed.
The hearing chaired by Sen. David Argall, R-Schuylkill, at the Allegheny County Courthouse was the first of three the committee plans to convene across the state.
“This has a direct impact on the formation of the budget,” said Ferlo, who testified as a board member of the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority. “We’re all in the same boat, Republican or Democrat. We all have similar problems. I think they needed to better understand the significance of these programs and what they have done.”
Robert Rubinstein, the URA’s acting executive director, said state and federal funding cuts and changes in how state grants are awarded have stalled projects in Pittsburgh.
“At all levels, funding to support public infrastructure is harder to come by but the state’s core funding programs that we have used, to great effect in our neighborhoods, have been disproportionately disrupted,” he said.
Noticeably absent from the proceedings was Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who repeatedly has called for state pension reform. Pittsburgh has $1 billion in future pension liabilities, about 40 percent of which is unfunded.
Ravenstahl spokeswoman Marissa Doyle said URA officials attended the hearing on the mayor’s behalf.
Councilman Bill Peduto, the Democratic nominee for mayor, asked the committee for changes in state law that would prevent employees from padding pensions by working overtime before they retire and to equalize a pension funding formula for municipalities.
Peduto said state law should require arbitrators to consider a city’s ability to pay before deciding awards in contract disputes.
Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or [email protected].