Candidates promise job growth in Pittsburgh to students

By Michael Ringling

After a messy campaign of mud-slinging, voters will settle the competition between Democrat Rich… After a messy campaign of mud-slinging, voters will settle the competition between Democrat Rich Fitzgerald and Republican D. Raja Nov. 8 at the polls.

The two are vying for the position of Allegheny County chief executive.

The county chief executive is responsible for representing the county in all meetings with other elected officials and development organizations and approving or rejecting county ordinances and can prepare and submit fiscal plans. The county executive also oversees the affairs of the Allegheny County Council. The Pitt News asked both a few questions in advance of next Tuesday’s election.

TPN: Is there anything that you want students to know about you?

Rich Fitzgerald: I am an engineer. I am from Pittsburgh. I’ve lived here my whole life. I went to Carnegie Mellon as a mechanical engineer. My wife Cathy is a Pitt graduate in the School of Pharmacy. My daughter Jocelyn is a third-year medical student at Pitt. We are committed to Pitt. We are committed to this region. We live in the East End; we live in Squirrel Hill. We consider the University as part of our neighborhood.

D. Raja: I came here without a lot of money and without a lot of contacts, and Allegheny County gave me the opportunity to be successful, and the University of Pittsburgh gave me the opportunity to come here with a scholarship … I quite don’t see the same opportunity existing right now for the students who graduate … I am really excited to take this opportunity to take the county back to economic prosperity.

TPN: If you are elected, how will you help Pittsburgh’s student population?

RF: The best thing I can do for the student population is provide jobs and opportunities for students when they graduate. That is one of the things we really have been able to do over the last few years. For about 25 years, from the early ’80s to the middle part of the last decade, most young people were moving away from Allegheny County. They didn’t have job opportunities, and for the last couple of years, that has changed. The last year for example, 24,000 private-sector jobs were created in Allegheny County, which was fourth-best in the nation. For the first time in decades, more young people under the age of 34 are moving into Allegheny County than moving out because of the jobs in it — in financial, even in manufacturing. That is the best thing we can do, and hold the line on taxes — keep property taxes low to make housing affordable for young people.

DR: I talked to CEOs across the county, and what we hear all the time is, ‘Hey, we don’t have the people to hire that we find are suitable.’ And I talk to students across the board and they say, ‘We cant find the jobs here.’ … What I would do for the students is integrate the curriculum with the needs of the businesses … Integrate it so all students who graduate from here would have jobs waiting in our region … There are great start-ups that come out of [local universities], and I myself was a start-up. I’d like to make sure that [start-up] companies are able to get their first customer, they are able to get funding and they are able to get talent to stay in our region.

TPN: How will you keep Pitt graduates in Allegheny County so they don’t have to leave the area to find employment?

RF: Encouraging energy companies to employ local people … these energy companies are going to need technical people, whether they be geologists, chemists, engineers, accountants … If [companies] are looking for tax-increment financing or infrastructure improvements, if they want benefits from us, the government, part of the deal can be how many local residents are you going to hire.

DR: By working with the University and customizing the curriculum, and making sure that all coursework is well-aligned with what the industry needs … I would create something like the industry board … I would do this at both levels, one would be the department-by-department level and the other would be more broad-base across the whole University.

TPN: How will your plan for Port Authority affect students going to and through the Oakland area?

RF: What I would like to do is regionalize the Port Authority so there are more routes from outside the community coming into both Oakland and Downtown — major employment centers — by consolidating some of the county transit agencies to eliminate the duplication of services we have now … so students will have more options. If they are local, it will make sure the bus services provide. If they are coming from farther away — they are commuters — it will make sure they have more routes available to them.

DR: We need to make sure that we have service in Oakland … I would address the root cause of the issue … the benefit costs of the Port Authority … and those routes of the Port Authority that are cut. I would open them up to competition … [and] connect the airport to Downtown from Oakland, and it would just be those three stops, so we can get fast transportation between Oakland and the airport and Downtown.

TPN: How will your policy on Marcellus Shale drilling affect students?

RF: Other than providing jobs for students, there is not going to be any drilling taking place in and around the college campus of the University, but we will provide opportunities for the energy industry to grow … Students getting into that industry will benefit for many, many years to make a good living and provide for their families for decades.

DR: First is to make sure that we do this responsibly and make sure there’s no environmental and safety issues … By responsibly drilling at the airport, I see creating a large number of jobs for students who go to Pitt.

TPN: How will your policies on taxation affect students?

RF: By holding property taxes low, we are able to increase the value of property to make it worthwhile to buy property and invest in property in this county … It allows [students] to have affordable housing … As property taxes go up, that means the rents have to go up for students who rent properties because the landlords’ rents would be going up. If property taxes go up, the landlords have to raise the rent.

DR: I am a big believer in low taxes across the board and regulation that is fair and consistent … I have announced that I would eliminate the drink tax … We have a car rental tax and a drink tax … By us eliminating or reducing some of these taxes, we would have conventions coming here and, guess what: Students don’t have to go out of town to visit these conventions. They can go to these conventions right here.

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