Onorato has budget problems in Allegheny County

As you probably know, Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato is running for governor. He's running on his record as a competent manager, pointing to budget surpluses and fiscal conservatism during his time as county executive. However, according to an article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Onorato will have some tough budgetary decisions to make in the upcoming year.

Why? Allegheny County has a budget deficit of about $30 million. The Tribune-Review says that nearly half of the revenue that Onorato expected to get to help fill the gap is not going to materialize.

Onorato was planning on a windfall of cash from changes to the state sales tax originally proposed by Gov. Ed Rendell. Lawmakers wound up scrapping that idea during the state budget process, leaving Allegheny County without $5 million in expected revenue. The county also overestimated the amount of casino revenue it would receive by about $800,000. And these weren't the only problems in Onorato's budget plan.

Onorato gave up on a plan for 2011 to tax local hospitals, which was to generate $4 million annually, he said. Other talks between County Council members and nonprofits on payments in lieu of taxes petered out earlier this year, though council members said they are still hopeful.

Finally, county officials hoped to start earning money -- about $3 million for 2011 -- from gas deposits under the region, but failed so far to lease land or mineral rights to any company. Onorato said he isn't giving up on an attempt to get money from Marcellus shale under the county's airport land, but Airport Authority officials say federal officials won't relent on rules that block that money from going to the county.

Onorato seems steadfast against raising property taxes to deal with the deficit. It may be that he has a firm ideological opposition to increasing a broad-based tax during a recession. It may also be that he doesn't want to touch property taxes (or any other major tax) because he's running for governor.

For us, this raises familiar old questions about the intersection of politics and governing. We want someone with managerial experience in major managerial positions (like governor). But if they hold a managerial position while they're running, well, that can create a conflict. We'll be keeping an eye on Onorato to see how he deals with the deficit in Allegheny County while making his case to voters across Pennsylvania.

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