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Notes on the state of things

| Saturday, April 26, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

An undercover “compliance” officer for the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission has stung Lyft and Uber drivers 23 times over the past month for operating in Pittsburgh without state approval, the Trib's Bobby Kerlik reports. And it seems to be bragging that it used the same smartphone technology used by these ride-sharing services to attract riders to garner their “illegal,” citable rides.

Well, har de har har.

Fair being fair, when can we expect the same PUC gendarme to sting the city's predominant cab service, Yellow Cab, for too often failing to serve by not bothering to show up? Well?

Huck Gamble reminds this scrivener that, nearly 20 years ago, the Pennsylvania House was ahead of the curve and on the right side of the U.S. Constitution in passing a bill that would have eliminated affirmative action in state and local governments.

The measure, sponsored by Mr. Gamble of Oakdale, then a Democrat state representative, had no legs in the state Senate. It would have prevented any public agency or public utility from using “race, sex, color, ancestry or national origin as a criterion for either discriminating against or granting preferential treatment to any individual group with respect to employment, education or contracting.”

Said Gamble in a brief note last week: “We used the exact argument that brought about the U.S. Supreme Court's 6-2 decision a few days ago” in the case out of Michigan. And as he noted in a floor speech at the time: “No one but no one has anything coming to them — nothing except an opportunity.”

Given that the high court has offered the states a roadmap and a legal defense for implementing their own bans against the perverse practice of discriminating to end discrimination, we can expect similar legislation to be introduced in Harrisburg again any day now, right? Look for it — right after the Legislature fully privatizes the state liquor system.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald are right to remind that Dollar Bank isn't the only entity in the hole for underwriting the insolvent August Wilson Center for African American Culture. But it's not for the reason they're using.

While the bank has an outstanding $7 million note, taxpayers and foundations have a $30 million stake in the facility, they remind.

That latter fact is the basis for their dissing a $9.5 million bid — the highest received and from a still-unnamed private developer — to buy the center and for criticizing the court-appointed receiver, whose charge it is to make creditors whole.

But attempting to paint the bank, the receiver and even the private bidder as bad people is misguided. For foundation and government leaders are far from blameless in their shortsighted support of a facility with an unsustainable business model and poor management. It was neither good business nor any model for how foundations or government should operate.

The high bidder has plans to build a hotel on top of the facility — part of the original plan — and preserve space for the cultural center's mission. That's a recipe for returning at least part of the property to the real estate tax rolls. It's certainly a far better option than government types attempting to convince those burned once, hopefully now wiser for being lighter in the pockets, to risk being burned again. Messrs. Peduto and Fitzgerald should be tickled pink that the private sector now is willing to assume that risk.

Colin McNickle is Trib Total Media's director of editorial pages (412-320-7836 or cmcnickle@tribweb.com).

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