Doubt cast on Pittsburgh budget number
Pittsburgh officials said Tuesday they don’t know where they will get $20 million that Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s office is counting on from nonprofit organizations as part of its 2012 budget plan.
City Finance Director Scott Kunka said the figure listed in the five-year budget plan announced Monday came from City Councilman Bill Peduto, who cited $20 million in “nonprofit donations” when addressing council about shoring up the ailing pension funds.
Peduto said that although he had discussions with officials from universities and other nonprofits that don’t pay property and other taxes to the city, no one agreed to any payments and the figure was “a long-range goal,” not meant for one particular year.
Peduto said, nonprofits made it clear they would not give money to the city’s general fund, and donations considered now would be directed toward the pension funds.
“The mayor’s office is arbitrarily using that number to plug a $20 million hole in the budget for which those funds would never be available,” said Peduto, a frequent critic of Ravenstahl’s administration.
“This was part of Councilman Peduto’s (pension) plan,” mayoral spokeswoman Joanna Doven responded. “In the spirit of cooperation, we included it in the budget and are glad he is willing to be charged with carrying through on his proposal.”
The Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, which must approve city budgets while Pittsburgh remains in the state’s Act 47 distressed cities program, last year rejected a proposed 2010 budget that counted on more than $16 million from a tuition tax Ravenstahl proposed but could not institute. It was unclear how the $20 million figure might affect passage of the five-year plan.
Henry Sciortino, executive director of the authority, said his organization is combing through the budget. A public meeting is scheduled for noon Monday.
“We are working with (the administration and council) to determine the merits of all the numbers,” Sciortino said. “We’re asking for support for the numbers.”
A group of more than 100 nonprofits, organized under The Pittsburgh Public Service Fund, paid the city nearly $14 million for operating expenses in lieu of paying taxes between 2005 and 2007; it stopped when a contract with the city expired in 2007.
Ravenstahl’s office said the fund agreed, pending council approval, to pay $2.6 million this year and again next year. The Rev. Ron Lengwin of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, who speaks for the group, did not return messages seeking comment.
City officials continue to struggle with how to put money into municipal pension funds to avoid a state takeover that would force higher annual payments into the accounts. They need $220 million to raise the pensions from 27 percent funded to 50 percent funded by Dec. 31, or face state management of the pension system.