Orie plans tough board to guide city |

Orie plans tough board to guide city

HARRISBURG — State Sen. Jane Orie’s proposal for a state financial control board for Pittsburgh would give the board subpoena power to obtain city records and authorization to sell city assets to reduce costs.

Those powers are contained in draft legislation for the control board Orie distributed Friday during a private meeting with Pittsburgh business leaders. She declined to comment on the details.

Orie, R-McCandless, and House Republicans will meet today to iron out details of a tough fiscal control board to ride herd on city finances.

The effort is aimed at providing financial stability for Pittsburgh, which faces a projected $40 million deficit for 2003 and long-term structural problems with almost one-fourth of its operating budget used to pay down debt.

Changes are still being made in Orie’s bill which, as it now stands, would empower the board to subpoena city records should the city refuse to cooperate. It also could sell assets, such as the city’s asphalt plant.

Introduction of a Senate bill is expected soon. Reps. Mike Turzai, R-McCandless, and Tom Stevenson, R-Mt. Lebanon, have been fashioning a House version.

The proposal would set-up a five-member state control board with the power to:

  • Require a five-year financial plan and annually approve or reject the city’s efforts to meet long-term goals.

  • Recommend staffing levels of city departments; consolidation or merger of city, county or school services; debt reduction; privatization of services; and merger or elimination of under-used services.

  • Suspend some kinds of state funding if the city fails to adopt recommendations or adhere to its financial plan.

    The possibility of a one-time state grant to help Pittsburgh through the end of 2003 also surfaced Friday in the meeting between senators and business leaders.

    That was sparked by some business leaders’ fears over the city declaring bankruptcy, according to Orie. But substantial questions remain among some lawmakers about the size of the actual deficit, whether there are city reserves to cushion some of the blow and whether further spending cuts can be made.

    Kate Philips, press secretary for Gov. Ed Rendell, said the governor still hopes for a legislative solution. She declined comment on a cash bailout.

    Orie and Republican House members have been working behind the scenes to craft an alternative to Mayor Tom Murphy’s sputtering, year-long effort to obtain legislative authority for new and higher taxes in the city. Murphy’s latest version sought authority to levy a $52 occupation tax and a 0.45 percent tax on the payroll of for-profit corporations.

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