Burgess referendums move to protect taxpayers

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Continuing his flurry of legislative activity since helping to vote down Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s plan to lease city-owned parking spaces, District 9 Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess has introduced a bill to restrict elected officials from running for higher public office.

Burgess’ “Resign to Run” bill would place a referendum on the May ballot to amend the city charter and require that public officials resign their posts if they run for higher office. He announced the legislation prior to the start of the Jan. 11 council session.

“The public should not pay for the ambition of elected officials. We have seen a culture of corruption where elected officials use the resources of their offices to subsidize their political campaigns,” he said. “Career politicians often view legislative issues through the lens of good political positioning instead of good public policy. This referendum legislation is intended to protect the public from the negative consequences of political desires.”

Burgess said his legislation could also protect politicians from “mixing electioneering and government,” which he noted has taken a toll on both parties at the state level.

Our city has significant challenges and we need our elected officials to focus on the task at hand instead of the next political office,” he said. “I believe it’s time to protect City taxpayers from the endless ambition of career politicians. It’s time to separate public service from political promotion in the City of Pittsburgh.”

If approved the legislation, modeled on the Allegheny County’s Home Rule, would ask voters to approve a change in the city charter requiring the mayor and members of council to resign before running for another office.

This is the second bill calling for a ballot referendum Burgess has introduced in as many weeks. During the Jan. 4 council meeting, he called for approval of a ballot question that would give city voters a chance to approve or reject increases in city property tax.

Following an analysis of home sales and assessed property values across the city, Burgess said residents in low- and moderate-income communities are more often over-assessed while residents in more affluent neighborhoods are under-assessed.

“The system is victimizing low-income communities,” he said. “My referendum is designed to give them a chance to participate in changing the system that is victimizing them,”

If approved, the referendum would be placed on the May Primary ballot that would change the city charter to require voter approval for all future property tax increases.

“If we assessed property annually we wouldn’t see such differences, but that’s a county responsibility and I have no say in Allegheny County government,” he said. “That’s for afterwards. Right now we need something to keep things from getting worse.”

The proposal, scheduled for discussion during the Jan. 12 council meeting, has already met some resistance. Councilman Doug Shields said taxing authority is not something the public should have. Council President Darlene Harris said if the public were allowed to vote on tax increases, “they’d say no every time.”

Should council reject his bill, the referendum could still be placed on the ballot if 9,000 residents signed a petition to do so.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsbutghcourier.com.)

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