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Peduto asks state to keep Pittsburgh under Act 47 during Capitol visit

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013, 12:24 p.m.
 

HARRISBURG — Pittsburgh Councilman Bill Peduto wrapped up a two-day Capitol visit on Tuesday with a request that state officials keep the city under Act 47 state oversight until its fiscal situation stabilizes.

Reducing a $700 million unfunded pension liability and $15 million structural deficit are among benchmarks to meet before the Act 47 team is dissolved, he said. The Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, another oversight agency, would remain in place.

The Democratic nominee for mayor, Peduto met with lawmakers, row officers and C. Alan Walker, secretary for the Department of Community and Economic Development, with whom he discussed Pittsburgh's status as a financially distressed city.

Walker is reviewing the city's fiscal condition and will take into account Peduto's viewpoint and others, DCED spokesman Steve Kratz said. The city's Act 47 coordinators recommended in October that their oversight expire.

Peduto appeared confident and relaxed during a casual meeting with reporters in the Capitol media center.

“I think it was absolutely brilliant of him to come up (to Harrisburg) before the election and establish relationships with people he doesn't know,” said Moe Coleman, a professor of urban government with the University of Pittsburgh. “He certainly knew many people already; some of them had helped his campaign.”

Reinforcing those ties is important, Coleman said: “The city is dependent on the state. The state controls so much of what the city can and cannot do.”

Peduto said he would visit the Capitol “a lot” if elected in November. He would pattern his relationship with state government after Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter's, from whom he intends to seek advice. Nutter is a regular visitor and well-known face at the Capitol.

“That's a wise move on his part,” said Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills. Costa said Nutter has cultivated relationships with lawmakers in both parties and from both ends of the state.

“I agree with his position on Act 47,” Costa said.

More than 20 municipalities have state oversight through the Financially Distressed Municipalities Act. Pittsburgh was designated as such in December 2003.

Peduto, 48, of Point Breeze vowed from the moment he won the nomination to “fight for a new Pittsburgh.” In a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans 5-to-1, he is the favorite against GOP candidate Josh Wander. Yet he presented a humble front: “I am the Democratic nominee; I haven't won an election.”

Wander, 42, of Squirrel Hill met with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl during a luncheon at the mayor's office. The two discussed “the importance of a smooth transition between the Ravenstahl administration and a possible Wander administration,” said his spokesman, Nathan Catalano. Pittsburghers haven't elected a Republican mayor since 1934.

Though he doesn't think the city's Act 47 status should follow a timetable, Peduto said the city “could be out in two years or five years.”

Ravenstahl asked state officials to release the city from Act 47 operating constraints during a public hearing in November, arguing the city hasn't raised taxes and began a number of development projects in a tough economy.

Two items Peduto hoped to discuss with state lawmakers: the East Liberty Transit Center, a project he considers vital to the East End, and The Summerset at Frick Park development.

Among those with whom he met were Treasurer Robb McCord and Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, both Democrats. He talked with House and Senate Democrats on Monday and with Gov. Tom Corbett's chief of staff, Steve Aichele.

The importance of following protocol, something he learned during years in government, drove his desire to meet with officials, Peduto said.

“It's been a long time since we've seen a mayor of Pittsburgh up here meeting with legislative leaders,” said House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont. “I think it's smart.”

Pittsburgh's recent mayors typically trooped to Harrisburg seeking a handout of state cash, or permission to impose taxes or fees.

“I'm not here for a bailout at all,” Peduto said.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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