Monday, July 12, 2010
By Timothy McNulty, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Michael Lamb is Pittsburgh’s controller, but today he made his debut as a magician, releasing a new report that attempts to simplify the city’s budget.

The city’s first Popular Annual Financial Report does a pretty good job of pulling the rabbit out of the hat, in this case stripping down the city’s usual annual report (which was 208 pages last year) to a 14-page glossy brochure. The plain facts remain the same: on the good side, regular budget surpluses and a steady reduction in debts and deficits, and on the bad, an ailing pension fund, aging infrastructure and a declining population that carries most of the city’s funding load through real estate and income taxes.

The report — available at http://www.city.pittsburgh.pa.us/co/html/pafr.html — is a snapshot of the city’s finances, not a report card. At a press conference this morning Mr. Lamb did not judge Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s plans for addressing the pension fund (by leasing parking garages and street meters) or his handling of the budget in general.

His biggest warnings were about the city’s aging roads, stairways, sidewalks, sewers and bridges — the city has not been borrowing money, as usual, to pay for the long-term investments, in order to chip away at its debt. It last issued bonds in 2006.

“We haven’t been keeping pace with our infrastructure needs,” Mr Lamb said, and the city “has basic infrastructure that is crumbling around us.”

The report was financed with a grant from one of the city’s two financial overseers, the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority.