The Regional City With A Local Tax Base

It’s amazing how, often problems we see as new are really very old. I found a report from 1982 that could have been written yesterday, which is really interesting since the mythology of Pittsburgh is that all problems relate to the fall of the steel industry. The report shows a situation that is a bit more complex than that, one in which the city, like today acted as job provider to a wide region while recieving too little tax revenue to pay for it.

Here’s what they said about the city in 1980

“The second component of this study consisted of a cost/revenue analysis on the impact of nonresident workers, shoppers and users of City services and facilities.The League’s analysis concluded that while nonresidents contributed $9.1 million in 1980, theCity spent $15.8 million to provide services to nonresidents. Thus expenditures
exceeded revenues by $6.7 million.League research also revealed a number of other factors:-Pittsburgh has an unusually large nonresident commuting workforce;, ii,j-Of the 30 most populous cities, only San Francisco and Boston are smaller geographically;-A substantial amount of the City’s most valuable property is tax-exempt;-Pittsburgh has unusually severe restrictions on its taxing powers with respect to nonresidents;-A typical family in Pittsburgh has a high tax burden whether compared with other major cities or surrounding municipalities.”

And here is some more recent data from 2005. What one sees is the same trends, only much worse. The job base is almost the same in terms of numbers while the city has far fewer resident taxpayers. Also, now government and non profit employers who don’t pay taxes account for more jobs.

“Pittsburgh’s population of 600,000 in 1964 had declined to around 330,000 by 2002. Among cities with a population of 250,000 or more, Pittsburgh ranked fourth for percentage of its population change resulting from commuting. Only Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Tampa, Fla., had larger percentage increases in daytime populations.

Based on 2000 U.S. Census Bureau data, Penn Hills leads Pittsburgh-area municipalities in the number of commuters to the city with 7,823; followed by Mt. Lebanon, 6,639; Ross, 6,130; Shaler, 5,739; and McCandless, 4,888, according to the study, which was done by Pitt’s University Center for Social and Urban Research.”

Obviously, one simple solution to this problem is some form of consolidation or increased revenue sharing with the suburbs. But, we know that ain’t going to happen. What’s facinating is the fact that land use policies in the city don’t seem to show any awareness of the situation. The government seems to have for generations engaged in policies which reduce the quality of life in the city, while increasing it’s cost while at the same time offering more and more free amenities and parking for people who live out of town.

The fact that the city still is the center of so many jobs would indicate a substantial amount of unused leverage and power.

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