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Laurels & Lances

Laurel: To PNC Financial Services Group. Its decision to build a $400 million skyscraper of up to 40 stories in downtown Pittsburgh could be a watershed moment on a variety of fronts. First, The Tower at PNC Plaza, as it will be known, will be built with no public subsidies, bank officials say. That sends a strong signal that the market is healthy. Second, it's being billed as the world's most environmentally friendly building. That's great news for all (as long as the reality meets the billing). Third, the economic effects of construction alone will be a giant shot in the arm for a region with a long yawning economy. Thus, our heartiest congratulations to PNC.

Lance: To Pittsburgh's continuing lack of true pension reform. State Auditor General Jack Wagner -- a former Pittsburgh City Council member -- this week called the city's pension plans "severely underfunded." His audit found an appalling funding level of just 34 percent. And he said parking tax revenue that council has decided to put toward pensions "at best" would up that funding level to barely above 50 percent -- the level the city needs to reach to avoid a state takeover. It's a Band-Aid approach to a gaping, profusely bleeding wound. What's needed is fundamental change -- a move away from old-style defined-benefit plans and toward 401(k)-style defined-contribution plans.

On the "Watch List": Crime in the city. The FBI's preliminary annual Uniform Crime Report shows Pittsburgh's overall violent and property crime numbers fell from 2009 to 2010. But within the violent crime statistics is a disturbingly dramatic uptick: homicides rose 41 percent, from 39 in 2009 to 55 in 2010. Police say that's because last year, more people used weapons to settle disputes and got involved in high-risk activities, such as drug and gun trafficking. City law enforcers thus have a clear agenda for the rest of 2011: Maintain the downward trend in other crimes while cracking down hard on those offenses that too often lead to violent deaths, so that 41-percent rise in homicides proves to be an aberration, not an ongoing trend.

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