Tuesday, October 30, 2007

DeSantis poll

In reference to some comments on my previous post, we received a phone call tonight for an automated poll for the mayoral election, sponsored by the DeSantis campaign. My wife took the call. Much to Mark Rauterkus' dismay, it did not include third-party candidates.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Flock to the mock

My alma mater, Westminster College, will hold its quadrennial Mock Convention Nov. 7-8. Normally, the convention is held in a presidential election year, but the front-loaded primary schedule has prompted WC to move it up to this fall.

The college holds its mock convention for the party out of power in the White House, so that means it's a Democratic convention this year. When I was a freshman, in 1992, I was the state chairman for Alabama, and the convention nominated the Paul Tsongas for president and Barbara Roberts, then governor of Oregon, as the candidate for VP. My brother, also a Westminster alum, participated in the 1980 convention (he is 13 years my senior), which nominated Gerald Ford for president and George H.W. Bush for vice president.

Going back to 1936, with no convention held in 1944 because of World War II, it appears that the convention nominated for president the candidate who actually got his party's nomination in 1952, 1956, 1968, 1972, 1976 and 1988. (Up through 1956, the convention was held for the Republican Party only.)

The "correct" VP candidate was nominated only twice, in 1956 and 1980. At the '92 convention, Roberts' nomination was spearheaded by the Oregon delegation.

Anyway, the mock convention is a great tradition. Unless you transfer in or out -- or manage to finish your degree in less than four years -- you are guaranteed to be a student during the convention. I have to wonder if anyone has the dubious distinction of having participated in two conventions as an undergrad. I suspect it is not something you would put on your resume.

Labels: , , ,

"Shrinking to greatness"

Sam at AntiRust wonders if this City Journal article about Buffalo provides a prescription for Pittsburgh's recovery.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, October 25, 2007

I've seen this movie before

Eric Alterman brings to our attention this Newsweek column by Fareed Zakaria, who is alarmed at the war drums the administration is beating louder and louder. He tries to put the Iranian "threat" into perspective:

Here is the reality. Iran has an economy the size of Finland's and an annual defense budget of around $4.8 billion. It has not invaded a country since the late 18th century. The United States has a GDP that is 68 times larger and defense expenditures that are 110 times greater. Israel and every Arab country (except Syria and Iraq) are quietly or actively allied against Iran. And yet we are to believe that Tehran is about to overturn the international system and replace it with an Islamo-fascist order? What planet are we on?

It's George Bush's planet, Mr. Zakaria. We just live on it.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, October 21, 2007

City living, part 2

I've seen one or two comments on local blogs (here and here) claiming that Mark DeSantis is going to lose votes by promising to end the residency requirement for city employees should he become mayor.

I can see the logic. A city resident may reason that if his or her taxes are going toward paying an employee's salary, then that employee should be paying taxes to support the city as well, and that an employee who lives here has more motivation to work hard. GM shareholders don't want to visit a Chevy plant and see a bunch of Fords in the parking lot.

DeSantis also gave the mayor the opportunity to cast himself as an advocate for taxpayers against the demands of public employee unions, who many people believe have helped to push the city to the brink of bankruptcy.

So, yes, some people may vote against DeSantis for wanting to lift the residency requirement. The arguments against the requirement -- which I also oppose -- are abstract: that you can draw from a deeper pool of talent without such a restriction, and that you shouldn't have to force people to live in your city. (I'd also argue that conscientious employees will work hard regardless of whether or not they live here. I work at a university, and while I have no college-age children, I think I do a good job nonetheless.)

On the other hand, the arguments in favor of keeping the requirement are concrete: Fewer people will live in the city if the requirement is lifted, potentially raising the cost of living here for the rest of us.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, October 20, 2007

City living

A debate has erupted over at the Burgh Report over whether Mark DeSantis' pledge to end the city's residency requirement for employees is a good idea. In response to someone who claimed the city school district has declined as a result of the end of its teachers' residency requirement, I posted this response:

First of all, no suburban district has a residency requirement. So the idea that teachers have to live in the communities in which they teach in order to be successful is ridiculous. Thanks to grandfathering and the exemptions that were handed out as part of the CBA, plenty of Pittsburgh teachers and administrators lived outside the city even before the residency requirement was lifted. And the reason it was lifted was because Philadelphia had problems recruiting teachers due to its residency requirement, and by state code only Pittsburgh and Philly had such rules.

I suppose the best reason to not require employees to live in the city is that it automatically increases the pool of potential employees. That may not matter much to the police -- I have no idea if recruitment is an issue, especially in light of the budget cuts. Perhaps police who live in the city do garner more respect from the citizens they ostensibly protect. But as the admiral noted, there are vast differences among Pittsburgh neighborhoods, and living in one of them may not give you an appreciation of the others. (I, for instance, live closer, in geography, to Dormont than to East Liberty.)

I don't like the idea of a change in policy being made strictly for an endorsement. But arguably the morale of an employee is better if they can live where they choose, and that's nothing to sneeze at. Yes, there is a cost, and I've certainly criticized past efforts to keep unions happy at the expense of taxpayers. Yet somehow I doubt we're going to see hundreds of for sale signs go up in the city as a result of this. I suspect there are plenty of police who like living in the city, or for other reasons aren't inclined to move.

And if we do see a mass exodus, then my friends we have problems. Because what does it say about our city if we have to force people to live here? (link)

Labels: , ,

Thursday, October 18, 2007

At least my mom gave me a book

It seems that the Democrats in Congress never met a principle they weren't willing to compromise. To get Republican support for the S-CHIP program -- support that was insufficient to override the president's veto -- the Democrats agreed to increase funding for abstinence-only sex education by $28 million.

Of course, abstinence-only sex education doesn't actually keep kids from having sex; it just ensures that when they do, they will be more likely to catch an STD or get pregnant. (Which will lead to more abortions. Tell me again how the GOP is the pro-life party?)

In other news, it sounds like the Pennsylvania attorney general's investigation into the bonuses awarded by legislators to their staff is really heating up. Momentum for major reform of state government, which picked up after the infamous pay raise, seems to have slowed. Could this get the ball rolling again?

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Radio daze

Jason brings some common sense to the broohaha over WDUQ and Planned Parenthood, over at PBRT.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Get off the bus, Gus

Anti-sprawl activist Thomas Hylton makes an argument that he's made before: Pennsylvania needs to stop subsidizing bus transportation for local school districts, a switch that he believes would encourages school districts to renovate, rather than replace, outdated school buildings:

Pennsylvania school buses travel more than 381 million miles annually at a cost of more than $1 billion. That's nearly 75 percent of the cost of the state's urban and rural transit authorities. Although the state provides about half the funding for both systems, school districts are automatically guaranteed a subsidy based on their aid ratio and miles traveled, no further questions asked.

For example, the Blairsville-Saltsburg School District in Indiana County recently announced plans to close its high school in Saltsburg Borough and bus those students an hour away to an enlarged Blairsville High School at an additional cost of $200,000 annually. Thanks to the state subsidy formula, district taxpayers will only pay $62,000 more. The commonwealth will make up the rest.

Generous subsidies for school busing are just one reason the number of students walking to school has plunged from 50 percent in 1970 to less than 15 percent today. In recent decades, hundreds of walkable neighborhood schools have been closed all across Pennsylvania, often to be replaced by sprawling mega-schools on the urban fringe.

These new schools spawn car-dependent development and drain the life from older communities. Statewide, the loss of neighborhood schools has been a major factor in what the Brookings Institution calls the "hollowing out" of Pennsylvania -- disinvestment in older urban areas in favor of developing suburbs. ...

The Mt. Lebanon School District is held up as a model. The district has not built a new school since 1963. Instead, it has renovated its two middle schools and seven elementary schools, most dating to the 1920s and 1930s, and will soon renovate its 1928 high school. The district's architect estimates the renovated schools cost about 70 percent of the price of new construction, not including land acquisition. (link)

On the whole, I agree with Hylton. By subsidizing school bus transit, without any conditions, the state is, in effect, subsidizing sprawl. Undoubtedly some districts would find it more affordable to rehab smaller neighborhood schools rather than build large new ones if they had to bear the entire cost of transportation.

But I think in some cases Hylton may be confusing cause and effect. Some school districts build large, consolidated schools because a decline in the school-age population makes the cost of maintaining several buildings prohibitive. It's not merely a question of whether renovation is cheaper than new construction, but whether the costs of renovation and ongoing maintenance of multiple buildings is offset by savings in transportation.

Mt. Lebanon can maintain its neighborhood schools because it has a relatively stable, dense population -- not to mention a healthy tax base. Those are luxuries that not every community enjoys.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

It's one of my "pet peeves"

Someone has devoted a blog to unnecessary quotations marks. (Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan.)


Monday, October 01, 2007

Money well spent

The Post-Gazette reports that Hi-Tops -- located directly across the street from PNC Park -- is shutting down. It's one of several North Side restaurants located near the ballpark that have closed down over the last few years, and some of those that have opened up did so after getting public subsidies.

I suppose one could argue that the Pirates' dismal performance lo these many years is to blame for these businesses folding, but the whole point of building PNC Park was so the Pirates could have a competitive team.

Then again, I shouldn't dwell on the past. The important thing is that our public officials have learned their lesson, and won't waste taxpayer dollars on any more pro sports facilities.

Oh, wait...

Labels: , ,