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URA’s altruistic ways are way off | TribLIVE.com
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URA’s altruistic ways are way off

Tribune-Review
| Saturday, November 15, 2014 9:00 p.m.

You’re too generous for your own good.

Don’t take that the wrong way. Your selflessness is admirable. But you shouldn’t be reaching down deep into your pockets to aid the needy when you’re in dire financial straits.

You did that Thursday via the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh. The URA agreed to apply for a $2.5 million taxpayer-subsidized state grant that outgoing Gov. Tom Corbett recently committed to the financially struggling medical conglomerate UPMC.

The money will go toward an expansion project at Children’s Hospital in Lawrenceville that could not have proceeded without your contribution. To say times are tough for UPMC is like saying the Roman Empire endured a slight drop-off in Bacchanalia quality during its waning days.

For the fiscal year ending June 30, the nonprofit reported just $190 million in operating income and only $567.7 million in net income. UPMC’s investment portfolio stood at a paltry $4.3 billion.

CEO Jeffrey Romoff took in only $6.5 million last year, and just 30 UPMC employees earned in excess of $1 million. All the people clamoring for a minimum-wage hike should look in the mirror and honestly ask themselves: Could I subsist on the million-dollar salaries of upper-echelon UPMC executives?

Given its bleak financial condition, there was no way UPMC could absorb the entire $18.9 million hospital expansion cost on its own. Expect Romoff to mention your name next week when he recites what he’s thankful for just after the turkey is carved.

That’s especially true given the timing of your altruism.

As the URA signed off on the grant application, the state Independent Fiscal Office revealed just how tapped out you are. The office estimates a $1.85 billion state budget shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year, and isn’t optimistic the deficit can be made up by the change under your sofa cushions.

Helping the desperate and downtrodden might make you feel good, but it hasn’t been good for your wallet or the state’s credit rating. That was downgraded in July.

What happened with UPMC was reminiscent of what occurred a few years ago when you helped the Rooneys, the family that runs that little mom-and-pop National Football League franchise on the North Shore.

They said they wanted to build a $12 million entertainment venue across from Heinz Field but were a little strapped that week. You felt bad and gave them $2.5 million to complete construction of Stage AE. You never asked to be reimbursed, even when the naming rights were sold to American Eagle.

I don’t mean to be critical, but your generosity helped cause the state’s financial quagmire. Give away $2.5 million here, $2.5 million there, and eventually it adds up.

Your long-term handout habit isn’t the only reason for the $1.85 billion shortfall, but it is a contributing factor.

Sometimes, you have to keep the wallet closed.

Sometimes, you have to say no — no matter how down on its luck a multibillion-dollar conglomerate or NFL franchise might be.

Eric Heyl is a Trib Total Media staff writer. He can be reached at 412-320-7857 or eheyl@tribweb.com.

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