Brown: Students withstood Onorato for long enough

By Jacob Brown

With Election Day looming next Tuesday, whether you’re a Democrat, Republican or even a member… With Election Day looming next Tuesday, whether you’re a Democrat, Republican or even a member of something like the Rent Is Too Damn High Party, it is important to take a little free time to go vote.

But, in choosing this state’s next representatives, my only request for voters in the Pitt community is that you cast your ballots in favor of someone other than Dan Onorato for governor.

It’s not that the current Allegheny County commissioner hasn’t delivered on his promises. Property taxes haven’t gone up during his tenure. That’s pretty much been his primary talking point.

But in catering to his known constituents — older residents — he’s ignored the rest of us. It’s smart politics, but underhanded and disingenuous to those of us without AARP cards.

As a self-proclaimed champion of fiscal responsibility, according to his website, Onorato’s policies have shuffled cost burdens onto college students and younger Pittsburghers in order to fund bloated programs like the Port Authority transit system, instead of finding sensible means of lowering the overall cost of operation. In early 2008, Onorato instituted a 10 percent tax on poured alcoholic beverages as well as new taxes on hotel stays and rental cars to bridge a $26 million gap in the infrastructure.

After raising $45 million with the tax, the county government lowered the tax to seven percent to compensate for  overtaxing citizens. To add insult, Onorato suspended those funds that were meant for Port Authority workers so he could leverage union negotiations.

Clever? Perhaps. Opportunistic? More like backhanded. Much like the rest of Onorato’s county commissioner career? Absolutely — especially considering that at the time the funds were accumulated, the county hadn’t paid out a cent to those workers for more than 18 months.

The tax targeted bar-goers — many of whom are students — who already pay to use the bus system with tuition money. It’s easy to exploit us with such a tax, of course, because we’re traditionally the least responsive voter group in the county.

Last year, The Pitt News reported that just 10.8 percent of registered voters in Oakland cast ballots, despite Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s aggressive push at the time to tax tuitions to fund government pensions. A couple hundred students — myself included — had to fight for our rights in City Council’s chambers because no one took it upon themselves to mobilize and vote the guy out of office when we had the chance.

Surely, Onorato publicly decried Ravenstahl’s approach, but he levied for another that differed only in semantics. His suggestion to the mayor for filling a $15 million pension gap involved asking the area schools to donate money as if we didn’t contribute more than a fair share already with rent, taxes and commerce. Onorator’s county budget plan calls on doing the same thing to fill $4 million in missing funds.

Onorato stayed mum on most other points of contention that came his way — including much of the post-G-20 controversy. He praised the success achieved in bringing an increased international presence to the city but, again, ignored those of us who felt as though we were mistreated, whether we interacted  with the police or not.

The anarchists who contributed to the G-20 ruckus decided to bombard Onorato’s gubernatorial announcement party with the same fervor as they did during the summit this time last year. While I disagree with much of what they stand for, I’m glad they did it — if only to represent an unheard young presence in this city, with their mouths very appropriately, symbolically taped shut.

The demonstration exposed a crack in an immaculate image of this man who helped bring the world stage to Pittsburgh. And now that crack has begun to widen into a fault.

In an article published last week in the Tribune-Review, County Councilman William Robinson (D-Hill District), chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee, expressed his doubt in Onorato’s proposed county budget for 2011.

“We don’t feel confident those are numbers we can embrace, to the extent we could use them as a basis for a budget proposal, be it revenues or expenditures,” he said.

Onorato’s budget is cutting about $6 million from 2010, and his planned budget doesn’t include filling a $5.9 million hole for Human Services and foster care support, according to the Tribune-Review. It’s also worth noting that the same article said Onorato’s budgets have consistently relied on $30 million state bailouts to remain solvent. On his website, Onorato touts that he has eliminated 10 political offices and hundreds of county positions, “[saving] the region’s taxpayers millions of dollars.” He has mentioned consolidating services across the county to further save money, but I don’t think he could ever fathom displacing any of his buddy Ravenstahl’s power. He hasn’t so far.

In saying all of this, I’m not advocating that everyone should support Tom Corbett, Onorato’s Republican rival. If you don’t like Corbett’s positions, don’t vote for him, either.

But as taxpayers and residents of this county and state, it would be doing ourselves a disservice to support Onorato’s endeavors in politics after having withstood so much for years. The most he deserves from us is bus fare to get back to his Brighton Heights home and perhaps a round of whatever beer’s on tap at his local bar.

Jacob may be from Ohio, but he’s been registered to vote in Pennsylvania for four years now, and he plans to do so next Tuesday. E-mail him at [email protected] or visit his blog at