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Geeks, in-crowd tussle over city budget

| Monday, Oct. 25, 2004

Urbandictionary.com: 1. pantsed Having one's pants pulled down. "I got pantsed today at school."

Think of Pittsburgh's financial plight as a teen flick.

The state oversight board, set up to oversee the city¹s finances, is the geeky teen protagonist who always gets hassled by the in-crowd.

For instance, the Governor's Office failed to include funding for the board in the state budget. That's the political equivalent of a wedgie, just to show that all the cool kids are in Harrisburg.

Mayor Tom Murphy has been knocking the panel's thick black plastic glasses off by presenting budgets he insists are balanced, but which the oversight board has rejected.

And another fiscal watchdog group, the Act 47 team, is also working on municipal finances. That makes them the Romeo who's putting the moves on the geek's girl.

Last Monday, however, the oversight board snuck into the boys' locker room and put liniment in Murphy's jockstrap: The panel refused to accept the mayor's latest budget.

The climax of a teen flick is always at the prom, and at Pittsburgh High, the prom is in November.

The firefighters are trying to put a referendum on the Nov. 2 ballot asking voters if they favor mandating fire response times. The firefighters think such standards will prevent drastic budget cuts to their department. In other words, the firefighters are taping "kick me!" signs to both of the watchdog boards.

Now the courts are stepping in, which of course will make things even wilder.

Soon after the election, the city and the oversight board must agree on a budget plan. Then the state Legislature must consider implementing the taxes that city plan likely will depend on.

But lawmakers regard a commuter tax as they'd regard getting beaten up for their lunch money. If they balk, city residents could get stuck with a big property tax increase Murphy slipped into his proposed budget, as high school pranksters might slip something gross into the cafeteria food.

So, at Pittsburgh High, by December we should know who the nerds and the cool kids are - the oversight board, the Act 47 team, the mayor, the courts or the Legislature.

But the real geeks seem to be us, the taxpayers, who in one way or another, by the final reel, are likely to get pantsed.

Jim Tynen can be reached at jtynen@tribweb.com or (412) 320-7948.

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