So a very nice gentleman from the City Solicitor's office wrote me back

A couple weeks ago, I wrote to request records that would show exactly who pays what under the Business Privilege Tax (this is why). The request made it to the right people--the Revenue Department and the City Finance Director--after some trial and error and with the help of some of you.

Last week I received an email. The City Solicitor's office is reviewing the request, and will determine what will be released.

February 13

Dear Ms. Kates,

This response is to your letter addressed to Department of Finance. You request various records relating to payments under the Business Privilege Tax.

I am writing to let you know that we have taken this matter under consideration. However, in order to adequately review and respond to your request, a legal review is necessary to determine whether and to what extent the records you are requesting are public records subject to access under the Pennsylvania Right to Know Act, 65 P.S. §§ 66.1-4.

We will keep you informed of our progress, and anticipate being able to respond to the entire request no later than 30 days from the date of this letter.

So, a couple more weeks and then the, um, real fun begins: data analysis!

Dave Davies wants info too

From yesterday's DN, Dave Davies wants info too, only his is referring specifically to the bond issue that will save the pension plans, in theory:

I want a long second look. Any time somebody tells me the answer to a financial problem is to borrow a big heap of money, I get nervous.

I spoke Thursday to Duquesne business professor James Burnham, a former staffer at the federal reserve and director of World Bank who wrote a 2003 article about pension obligation bonds for a government financial officers magazine. It was called "Risky Business?"

Burnham says these deals amount to borrowing money to invest in the stock market. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn't. But he said you don't want to take risks if you're already stretched.

...So here's my prescription: Nutter's financial team should work up a detailed, written explanation of the transaction soon, explaining its potential impact decades down the road.

And City Council should hire an independent, skeptical, downright ornery expert to scrutinize the deal and run the numbers every which way, so we know what the risks are. Magic is fun, but we want to see all the angles on this one.

Same basic idea. Let us all, from Council, to reporters, to those damn kids with too much time on their hands, see this information.

Anyway, Jennifer also left out one of the more amusing parts of her exchange. The City Solicitor said, he knew the request was coming and was waiting for it, because he reads YPP.

The way the Pension Board invests has to be looked at too.

It's the Pension Board -- made up of four administration officials, the Controller, four union reps, and one nonvoting member appointed by the Council President -- that will decide how to invest these dollars. They don't have to be invested in the stock market, they could be invested in local economic development projects, or Certificates of Deposit, or, in fact, almost any conceivable investment that passes the smell test. The Board has devolved this function over recent years onto a range of investment managers without any public input or much evaluation of performance. Or if there are performance reviews, they're not exactly released with great fanfare. Opening the door to how the Board invests the Fund should be one of the first items of business of Nutter's new appointees who have just taken their Board posts.

Pension board investments

My understanding that part of the bond-holders will have some say in how the $4.5 billion is invested. Like Stan, I'd prefer that money be plowed into local businesses or other things that will have a positive impact locally. However, it may be nearly impossible to structure a deal to make that possible. Nutter's first priority will be to appease investors on Wall Street who will want this money to be put into funds with a high return.

But bondholders get repaid regardless of how the Fund performs

The ultimate fate of the bond fund would only have a tangential impact on the bondholders since repayment would not likely come from the Pension Fund itself but from the tax-supported City General Fund. Have you found out that that's not the case here, Ben?

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