The following questions came from The League of Young Voters. A session was held, in conjuction with Bill Peduto, D, member of Pittsburgh City Council, at Club Cafe on Feb. 12, 2006. The questions and answers were my "speaker notes." My talk ran along these lines, but it wasn't exactly as typed. In the 10-minute period, and with five minutes of follow-up, I didn't deliver all this content.
1) The City is expected to have a budget deficit in future years; do you support further cuts or an increase in taxes to resolve this issue?Edit
We are already one of the highest taxed places in the nation. By and large, I'm against new taxes.
The two areas where I'm okay with a new twist to taxes come in two specific areas. These are tax shifts, not necessary new taxes. Both are state issues, not so much a city council issue.
I am in favor of a new sales tax on gasoline that pays for mass transit. Now, the taxes for gazoline goes to pay for roads. Our transportation problems are big. The way it happens now, we fund sprawl. Rather, we should tax what we want to curb and reward what we want to encourage.
I'm in favor of a tax shift that would give Pennsylvania a new health care reform package that covers every citizens health care, mental health, dental and more. The new state bill, Senate Bill 1085, is being co-sponsored by Senator Jim Ferlo. Months ago more than 20 PA House Members, of the Republican Party, were on-board with the bill. Now that the Clean Sweep efforts are in full swing, they've gotten cold feet.
This healthcare reform bill happens at the state level, where it needs to occur. This will not work on a federal level. It is good for every citizen, businesses, doctors, hospitals and gives PA a competitive advantage among states. This bill should be co-sponsored by my state Senator, Wayne Fontana, and I've asked him to put his name on the bill as well.
These mentions of new taxes take a back seat to the other taxes that I'd want to lower.
I'm in favor of increases in taxes to those who have been getting tax breaks in the form of TIFs.
The worst tax is the deed transfer tax. This tax hurts new home buyers the most. It freezes people in their homes. Businesses don't want to upgrade or downgrade. We should strive to get a tax holiday on the deed transfer tax. The tax is 4% in Pittsburgh and 2% in Cranberry. Delaware gives new home owners a free pass on the deed transfer tax.
Pittsburgh's legacy of affordable housing, and Pittsburgh's density of tall buildings downtown, is a direct result of past generations that had a LAND VALUE TAX. I favor the Land Value Tax. It went away in 1999 and 2000 with Bob O'Connor's Unified Tax Plan, and then was adopted as well by Tom Murphy. If we get the Land Value Tax to return, we'll have another major boom. Wide understanding and discussions about the land value tax would end much of the goofy talk that swirls about with property tax reform.
The Land Value Tax doesn't work in farm areas – but it would work wonders again in the city and Allegheny County.
Presently, we reward those who trash their property and PUNISH those who do fix ups.
2) How would you have voted on Act 47?Edit
I encouraged those on City Council to vote NO on the Act 47 vote. It is never a good idea to have OVERLORDS. I'm a big advocate of democracy. I want Pittsburgh to be self-reliant, not dependent on handouts, bailouts and the whims of others who are not elected nor held accountable.
I want authority board members to have voter approved RETENTION VOTES. Remember Newman and Nigro for PA Supreme Court votes in November 2005. Same could apply.
Pittsburgh has to solve its own problems. We can't allow others from the outside to solve our problems. Those that can't move an agenda need to step aside. Tom Murphy was dead in the water. He should have been ousted. He should have been encouraged to resign.
Humpty Dumpty's fate.
3) Tax Increment Financing is a very controversial issue because it is not being used as the legislation intended it to be used (i.e. redevelopment of brownfields). What will you do to prevent the misuse of TIF's?Edit
I won't vote YES for any TIF. The TIF laws in Harrisburg should be changed, and I campaigned on this issue when I ran for PA Senate.
Outstanding TIFs need to called and made due. Accounting needs to occur.
I've spoken against TIFs at the county level too. I testified that Allegheny Council should vote NO to Deer Creek Crossing. I'm going to speak against the TIF for Second Avenue, and new parking garages for the suburban styled office park at the public hearing at the end of this month. I've asked School Board Members to vote no on TIFs. It was the PPS Board that ended the COKE OVEN threat in Hazelwood. I was there with GASP saying no.
4) Which slots application do you support? Edit
I have problems with all of them. Think again. Gambling has the potential to be the tail that wags the dog in these parts for some time into the future.
The Pittsburgh Penguins of the NHL are wed to one plan and won't think again. I can't stand that narrow type of thought process nor actions. Who is to say that the NHL isn't going to go out on strike again. The NHL, with is on-ice fighting, is not welcomed in my home.
Hopes of a new arena seems to be a top priority, for others. I ask why don't we fund bridges, sewers, eliminate debt, allow for consolidation of various municipalities, and make transit fixes. The windfall from gambling could be better spent elseweher, such as with investments to affordable housing for the seniors and/or the poor.
Sure, the Pens generate some money for the local economy. But there are some other pressing needs. And, in this time of glory, how about if we encourage the Steelers to buy Heinz Field. Let's have the Pirates buy PNC Park too.
The Isle of Capri plan has problems. First, I want to keep the Civic Arena, not have it, a historical structure, torn down. If the Pens or the casino operators want to build a new indoor arena, we want the old one back.
If a new arena is built, keep it private. We don't want it.
Gambling should go into the Convention Center. It could open sooner. The Convention Center is a big, green building. It has the potential to be a nice site for that use. The Convention Center costs the local taxpayers up to $6-million a year in operational losts and we still owe more than $300-million on the building and construction costs.
I like the idea of putting Gambling at Parkway Center Mall, as per Dan's suggestion.
The FIX is IN, was stated, by former Mayor, Tom Murphy. I was there. Murphy would not name names and was asking for transparency – yet not being transparent himself. "What, and be sued.." Andy Conte was there from the Trib. We need to talk in open ways about all of these gambling options and I think a better solution is necessary.
Station Square won't see a lot of opposition, in my opinion, from locals on the South Side. If elected, I'd quickly mount a major offensive against the Station Square gambling casino, but that isn't a battle I can manage at this juncture. The forcasting for the gambling looks bad. Rows of charter buses might fill the parking along East Carson Street. A clear line will be drawn where private police guard the casino side, and the other side, some blocks away from the casino, is left for junk.
Atlantic City had more than 250 small businesses, but today it now has four. Crack downs by state police on Bingos, Night at Races, and other major changes are expected.
The NEW URBAN Housing Development associated with the Station Square site looks good in the press clippings and from the outside. I went to Hong Kong and lived in a car-free city last year with my family. The new urban hope is very promising. But, the fine print in the advance articles say, "if demand merits the buildings of those high-rise condos, then they'll be built." Mt. Washington's Trimont went bankrupt three or more times in the past decades. This high density living, in the city, isn't going to fly in the marketplace, now, yet. Pittsburgh' demand is too soft. But, the challenge to begin to think that way excites me.
Should all those urban flats be built, we'll need to keep South Vo Tech as a school – K-8. We can't let the Pittsburgh Public School District sell off that school. We'll need to re-open Knoxville, perhaps as a second performing arts middle school.
The North Side, with or without gambling, brings a major disappointment. The Steelers should have their practice fields on the roofs of parking garages on the North Side. UPMC Sports Medicine should be there too. We've got new corporate office buildings on the North Side on prime land and that only led to a net loss in downtown office spaces. Office buildings there are now going to go dark. Suburbanization of downtown is happening. We're seeing the tearing down of buildings as the tax rate is less – due to the lack of the land tax and the arrival of the unified tax.
5) How will you implement community based development plans for each neighborhood in the District? Edit
I'm a SOFTWARE, not a HARDWARE, person. And, the software needs to be of an OPEN SOURCE way.
Let's establish a Park District. Let's work with volunteers helping kids. Let's look at programs, programming, service, teaching, guidance, mentoring and democracy -- not new brick and mortar projects.
We need community based development for the human potential -- not with new buildings.
I'd insist upon under 20-year-old board members with mentors for courage be place on all the local organizations that get any time, money or attention from Grant Street. I'd insist upon under 30-year-old board member categories. These neighborhood groups need elections or else total freezes of all funds. Just look to the horrid operations of other groups around town, such as the West Pittsburgh Partnership, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, and even the strict-concensus model deployed with the South Side Planning Forum. There are closed board meetings conducted by the Greater Pittsburgh Visitors and Convention Breau, and their board members don't even realize their own policies.
I'd hope to, as a city councilman, sponsor four to eight referendums for every election. This would drive many to leadership roles within our democracy.
Use it or loose it.
Did we vote to fund the two stadiums? Did we vote on the Mon Valley Toll Road? Why did Duquesne Light offer to light up the bridges – when we really needed 8 new math coaches for 9th grade algebra because 80 percent of those kids are failing.
The US has 3,000 people who drop out of high school every day.
Our we teaching our kids how to parent? Are we teaching kids how to read. Are we getting any intergenerational programs at all in the city?
Bike lanes are cheap. So too are open-source software upgrades.
I'd strive for coaching education. Perhaps we'd open a new sports and community library. Perhaps a new site, such as South Vo Tech, could be a central office for a unified parks office, that merges Citiparks, County Parks, Point State Park, and PPS Afterschool – and WPIAL offices, Marathon office, park permit desk, and an additional PCTV studio.
There is a lot to be done that cost very little money. We need to play well with others without spending much, because we are broke. We can play well with our kids, have fun, develop community and insist upon better democratic ways in all we do with community development.
Western Pennsylvania is a cradle of quaterbacks, coaches, teachers, engineers, problem solvers, survivors. We are prudent, yet we don't have anything that looks like a YOUTH TECH SUMMIT. Educators, academics, CMU, volunteers, churches, can all come together to celebrate and deploy technology, as a civic endeavor. That's what I mean when we want to stress software, not a new set of townhouses that take six years to build by some local development group.
6) District 3 is home to the 2nd highest percentage of 18-24 year olds. How will you improve the vibrancy of the District to keep young people in Pittsburgh? Do you support an active night life, such as live performances and other arts? Edit
My CD has music. I've done the ART OF NEWS. My kids play violin. My grandpa started DU's school of music. I've published books. I've taken grad students and step-nephew to China. I lead an active life and a vibrant family life. And, above all, I understand that in Pittsburgh, and elsewhere, people vote with their feet.
I'm in this for my kids.
It is very hard for our kids to excel and stay in Western Pennsylvania. HOPE for a better Pittsburgh, sadly, isn't with a one-party town.
Kids want to be free.
Understand: Diversity is a by-product of freedom.
7) Domestic partner rights are being threatened by state lawmakers. How will you protect same sex benefits for City employees? Edit
Yes. I'm a LIBERTARIAN – and a Unitarian Universalist. The worth and dignity of every person matters to me and my faith tradition. Live and let live.
8) City Council recently imposed a buffer zone around health care clinics. Will you work to enforce local laws that protect a woman's right to choose? Edit
I didn't care for the bubble law. It hurt freedoms. But, I understand that freedom has an equal measure of responsibility too. The law is going to fail because it isn't practicle.
I'm a common sense Libertarian. And, solutions need to work in the real world.
9) What is your position on the Mon-Fayette Expressway? What forms of alternative transportation do you support to provide a solution to the region's transportation problems? Edit
I hate the MV Toll Way's entry into the city. Repair what we have. I like urban Blvd. plans. That was an alternative plan put forth by some hard-working citizens. Their ideas were on the mark.
Oakland is getting a new bridge because two of them are about to fall. But, the design of this new bridge does NOT allow for a bike lane. That stinks.
Bates Ave. presents a serious problem for the Mon Valley Toll Road plan. Plus, the new development in Hazelwood should use that land, not some road to whisk people to the exterior-suburban reaches.
Build-up in the outstretched reaches just hurts the city further. We have room to expand here.
We could use the rails. In the old days you could ride a train from Sewickley to McKeesport.
I love the Colorado car as a possible addition to our transportation landscape. Bill Peduto is in favor of that too. He calls it, as it is, a "streetcar on steriods." We should be running the train from the Strip to New Kensington. We should ride from Homestead to Hazelwood to Oakland and up Rt. 8. I'll work on regional transportation matters.
The tunnel to be built under the Allegheny River is a bad idea.
Plus, I think Maglev is a joke. I got to ride the Maglev in China, and document that experience on my web site. The van that took our luggage nearly beat us to the airport. There is no real value to the project as we have it designed. Maglev will be a huge waste of money and open up a ton of property problems for the region.
We should be building light rail on the East Busway and into Turtle Creek. We should be building light rail into Oakland, of course.
Let's also bike on the bus ways in the east and in the West End. Let's allow bikes into the transporation tunnels such as the one's near Station Square, i.e., the Wabash Tunnel and the Light Rail Tunnel by the Smithfield Street Bridge.
Bike paths have only been built out in areas along the rivers. That's not real transportation solutions. The Murphy bike paths are for tourists. In China, I purchased a bike. My kids and I went all around Chengdu for four weeks on a bike. That city has more people than New York. They know how to travel on bikes in China, and we could learn a lesson or two from them. Bikes can share the roads with autos, buses and pedestrians. We fail at this in terms of design and political will.
Sure, bikes are not good for every section of this hilly city. But, along some routes, bikes can be a perfect solution.
I'll be happy to win the City Council seat and turn the council person's parking spot on Grant Street into a bike parking station.
If you want to talk about alternative transportation have you seen the mentions about Electric Boats, Duffy Boats, that could be put into play on the city's rivers? This would be liek the Zip Car concept, but it would be a Zip Boat.
10) What is your position on the strip mining of the Hays site for a racetrack/casino? What should the City do to proactively protect Hillsides and green space? Edit
The candidates in this race had a debate at The City Theater and Jeff Koch got a question about Hays. I had to fill him in about the real story there. Hays isn't about a race track as much as it is about the mineral rights and a strip mine, for a few years. I don't favor the mining in Hays.
I do have a problem with some of the programs associated with the preservation of hillsides and green spaces. This puts me slightly at odds with Councilman Peduto.
With fanfare, we are getting a new park around Mt. Washington. It is an Emerald Link. We need software solutions -- not green spaces. We need coaches to work in our parks. We need to challenge our kids in human ways. Idle greenspaces are not going to be enough to keep our families living here. Our kids are shooting each other. They are not going to be excited by a little stroll along a pathway in a city park that is often just 5-feet wide.
On other matters, it is a crime to spend more money to take down and deconstruct the South Side Slopes Stairs -- than to repair them.
Landslides and matters with insurance need to be examined.
- FAQs_&_As - as in Frequently Asked Questions and Answers.