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December 13, 2009

The Pittsburgh Promise : Life Imitates Art

I watched The Office last week (Season 6, Episode 12) and one of the issues was a ten-year-old promise that Michael Scott had made to pay the college tuition for an entire class of an inner-city high school.

Unfortunately, he did not have the money to keep his promise, so he had to go to the school and tell them it wasn't going to happen. When he arrived, the students (who call themselves Scott's Tots) surprised him with a ceremony honoring Mr. Scott, including an rap song set to the Bad Boys jingle:
Hey Mr. Scott,
What'cha Gonna Do,
What'cha Gonna Do,
Make Our Dreams Come True!

Throughout the various demonstrations of gratitude, Mr. Scott sits there weeping, and finally he stands up and explains that he doesn't have the money to pay for anybody's tuition. The response is predictable: dismay and disappointment. Tone-deaf to the situation and feeling like a victim himself, Michael Scott says, "Of all the empty promises I've made, this was by far the most generous".

As Oscar Wilde said, often life imitates art. This was tragic-funny on television, but I don't think it's going to be so funny in Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Promise, proposed in 2006, was funded by voluntary donations from city non-profits with the tacit understanding that their donations would preclude having to pay city taxes, or make PILOTS (payments-in-lieu-of-taxes).

The city's finances are not balanced, and the Mayor has played brinksmanship with the Universities with his proposed (and unprecedented) $15 Million tuition tax called the "Fair Share Tax". Then the Mayor stated that he'd settle for $5 Million. The Universities have declined to agree to the shakedown.

In the next round, the City will continue to demand money. It'll be rushed, before City Council changes in January. There'll be threats of tax legislation. Eventually, the non-profits will play their card: "you might be able to tax tuition, of course, but then we're going to stop supporting the Pittsburgh Promise. Because, Mr. Mayor, you promised that if we supported this, we'd be good."

The Pittsburgh Promise was politically expedient for Luke, if not for the city's long-term financial posture. The Education Tax was volatile, so it wasn't released until after the election. I believe this is all Kabuki theater, designed to provide Luke political coverage: I could have balanced the books, but then the non-profits would have hurt our kids.
Hey Mayor Luke,
What'cha Gonna Do,
What'cha Gonna Do,
When the bill comes due!


Bram Reichbaum said...

Let me guess... Hulu + openapple + shift + 4?

Genius work. I remember once running a Google Image search for "incredulous" which led me to use an into-camera shot of Ryan struggling to comprehend something he had no doubt just heard from Michael.

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