Flaherty: County needs to move in different direction

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Though as a CPA and attorney he has a similar professional background to outgoing Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, Mark Patrick Flaherty said he would not govern the same way if elected to succeed his current boss.

That, he said, is what his opponent would do.

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MARK PATRICK FLAHERTY

“I decided to run after Dan lost his bid for governor because I think the county needs to move in a different direction,” he told a May 2 New Pittsburgh Courier Editorial Board. “Our budgets haven’t been balanced and we aren’t solving problems. I see a lot of opportunities, but we can’t take advantage of them unless we get our fiscal house in order.”

As Allegheny County Controller, Flaherty has seen the budget numbers and said a new approach is needed. His opponent, Allegheny County Council President Rich Fitzgerald, he said would continue business as usual.

“For the last several years, the county executive and county council, and its president, have approved budgets with unrealistic revenue projections that always fall short—but they’ve relied on state and federal grants to bail them out on the back end,” he said. “That shortfall is now at $66 million. The feds have a $3 trillion deficit and the state is $4 billion in the hole. They aren’t going to be bailing us out again any time soon.”

Flaherty said to balance these budgets, the current administration has taken money from the capital budget meant to improve infrastructure and spur development and job creation.

“That’s the biggest difference between me and Rich,” said Flaherty. “He wants to be ‘Dan II.’ He approved those overruns. “

Though he was not specific about how he’d trim the county budget to reflect a more “realistic” expectation of revenues, he said he would find efficiencies by merging more functions eliminating duplicative service contracts.

“As controller, I’ve been watching out for the residents’ best interests and as executive I’ll do the same,” he said.

There is another major difference between the two Democratic contenders—how they would pursue income from Marcellus Shale development on county-owned property. Fitzgerald favors a standard lease arrangement with the county receiving a modest royalty on any natural gas extracted. Flaherty has a longer-term approach.

He said the state bungled casino licensing, and doesn’t want that mistake repeated. He wants a bigger share of the Marcellus revenue and proposes a partnership, of sorts, that over a 20-year span would return $3 to $5 billion to the county.

“Mine is a long-term plan to raise 5-6 times as much revenue. We put out an RFP and tell the drillers we’re interested in a partnership,” he said. “With that kind of arrangement we can contractually control development. It can be done locally, employing county residents instead of Texans. We can control the cleanliness, the safety—we can stipulate any restrictions in the contract ahead of time.”

Flaherty favors a halt to property reassessments until they can be done on a statewide basis, wants a better solution to funding public transportation than the drink tax, and would promote the growth of University and tech spinoffs to revitalize the job market.

In addition to having served as county controller for eight years, Flaherty, the nephew of former Pittsburgh Mayor and County Commissioner Pete Flaherty and son of former County Commissioner Jim Flaherty, worked in financial services and as an attorney for 17 years before winning election as controller in 2004. He resides in Mt. Lebanon with his wife and daughter.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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