Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Fixing Pittsburgh

The Act 47 authorized city oversight board has been named, and I am shocked, shocked! to see that the board consists entirely of white men over 50. This is probably a result of the structure of the board. Each of a series of stakeholders got to make a single decision &mdash each party in the state house, each party in the state senate, and the governor. With only one choice to make, each had old paybacks and a desire to be risk-averse, which made this makeup of the board pretty much inevitable &mdash nobody ever got fired for buying IBM! (Hmm, does that reference date me?)

While the Post-Gazette thinks we should wait until the board does its job before criticizing it, statements by the Mayor suggest that that may be too long. In the meantime by choosing such a monocultural board, the stakeholders have guaranteed that any decision that is made will be the subject of arguments, fights, and quite possibly lawsuits.

The other fundamental problem with the board is that it is extremely representative of the thinking that got Pittsburgh into this mess in the first place. People wedded either to the idea that Big Steel will come back to save the 'burgh or so thoroughly in bed with the existing Victorian politicial structure, that they seem unlikely to recognize the need for some sort of radical changes. The board's first action has hardly been innovative &mdash they want the city to stop spending money while they look at the problem. While that may be necessary, one would hope that they would already have an idea what the problems are. After all, they are supposed to be insiders and veterans of the smoke-filled rooms.

Without some sort of serious city/suburban compromise on infrastructure funding and support, the heart of the region will start to collapse, and it will take the suburbs down with it. This board seem very unlikely to come up with the sort of significant proposals that will be needed to effect such a change, however. And I fear that even if they do defy the odds and make such suggestions, there will be significant delays before any plan can be implemented. As a consequence, come the fall I expect to see emergency cutbacks that will start to cause serious damage.