Thursday, April 08, 2010

Tax Break Issue Weighs On Mt. Lebanon Condo Project

A think tank blasted Mt. Lebanon officials after a developer halted a $42.8 million condo project backed by tax breaks.

In a policy brief, the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy questioned why tax breaks were needed and whether the Washington Park development met state standards for them.

In an interview Tuesday, Frank Gamrat, senior research associate for the institute, said township officials should not have become so heavily involved in the process, instead allowing the market to drive it.

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Anonymous David Brown said...

Here is the actual policy brief if anyone is interested. The author has some good points, but it is an editorial, no more and no less. I guess if you call yourself a think tank you can write anything and newspapers of the same political stripe will report on it as if it were peer-reviewed research.

A quick survey of this self-styled think tank's other reports and blogs shows the same pattern: Republican and fiscal conservative positions gussied up with the trappings of academia but offering no added value in terms of new analysis or insight. I'm not knocking fiscal conservatism -- it's important. But I would respect pundits and their opinions a bit more if they admitted from the outset they are editorializing instead of playing dress-up. And media that call these reports news are participants in the charade and so merit similar decrements in their credibility.

April 09, 2010 8:39 PM  
Blogger Dave Franklin said...

Dave, the first three words of the Trib article are, "A think tank." That sounds like a pretty open and unambiguous disclosure that the policy report came from an editorial source. They hardly attempted to pull the wool over anyone's eyes.

And I'm not sure what more you would have them or any other "pundit" to do in advance of making a statement or publishing a report to satisfy your full disclosure tests. By definition, a "pundit" is an expert, critic or commentator who states opinions in an authoritative manner. Would you trust them more if they wrote in crayon or gave interviews wearing flip flops instead of wingtips? Fact is, it's all opinion. I don't think anyone has denied that. The Allehgheny Institute certainly wouldn't deny that their statements about this project reflect their opinions. However, I'm guessing that their opinions are grounded in a bit more experience and research then yours and mine. And for heaven's sake, the Allegheny Institute makes no excuses for its tendencies - spend less than 3 seconds on their website and you easily learn that their mission is "to defend taxpayers and businesses against the burdensome taxation, inefficiency and intrusiveness of an ever expanding government."

Just curious, do you have the same opinions of the think tanks who dress up their causes with fancy names like The Center for American Progress or The Center on Budget and Priority Policies. The latter's members are regularly featured as noted experts on TV news shows and in print, but their words are never preceded by a disclaimer that reads, "I work for a big liberal think tank that encourages higher taxes and bigger government."

Think tanks (both liberal and conservative alike) have blasted, influenced, altered and shaped governmental decision making and public policies for years. And in many cases, it IS newsworthy. And when our local government drops the ball on several million dollars like was done here, I'm happy that some educated folks are ready to call them out on it. And let's face it, did any of us really need a think tank to tell us that the corner of Bower Hill and Cochran in Mt. Lebanon is not blighted?

April 10, 2010 8:41 AM  
Anonymous David Brown said...

Hi Dave!

Regarding the condo development I appreciate the information and opinions provided by Bill Matthews and Bill Lewis here. Also, I share concerns that any area of Mt. Lebanon would be designated as blighted. But that wasn't my point.

I hope you'll just trust me not to be hypocritical whenever a report from a liberal think tank becomes the topic of discussion (I've never heard of the two you mentioned.) I would also agree that the term "think tank" has been degraded considerably since the glory days of the Rand Corporation, but I don't think that knowledge is as common as you assume. Actually, I was initially excited to see what a think tank had to say about little old Mt. Lebanon and I started out just wanting to provide a link to the original. So maybe some naivete and disappointment showed in the tone of my review. But that wasn't my point either.

My point was that I don't like the way editorial content gets put into the news through the back door, and you actually helped me make my point. Since, as you say, everyone knows think tanks are biased, then the Tribune is admitting as much by starting out their news article with those words. Alternatively, if to maintain the fig leaf of journalism they are holding out the Allegheny Institute as an authority, it is a similar lapse of integrity.

But I needn't have bothered. After I posted I found that the blog 2 Political Junkies said it much better:

"Any time the Trib publishes something (anything) from the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy we should all remember that the institute is more or less bought and paid for by Richard Mellon Scaife.

That there's no mention of the millions of dollars granted to it over the years by the foundations controlled by Scaife (87% of all its foundation grants since 1995 came from Scaife) is textbook conflict of interest. He pays the institute for the research and his editorial staff uses that research as some kind of independent data in an editorial - see?"

(Reference. Warning: Contains gratuitous vulgar metaphor.)

So, in fact it's much worse than I originally imagined. The Tribune isn't just a participant in the charade, they are the charade. And now it isn't limited to the editorial page. Any time they want a story to have legs, they just pay a minion to write a white paper and report on that.

On Blog-Lebo, I would much rather read a guest editorial about the condo project by Mr. Lewis or Mr. Matthews. They use facts and, personally, I appreciate the history lessons about a time when I wasn't paying much attention to local government. I understand Tom and Joe aggregate almost anything about Mt. Lebanon that appears in the media, so it's not a knock on them. I just felt the need to do some wheat/chaff separation.


April 10, 2010 11:27 AM  
Blogger Dave Franklin said...

The Center for American Progress was founded by John Podesta, and receives millions each year from the likes of George Soros, Peter Lewis, Steve Bing and Herb Sandler. You may recognize Mr. Sandler as one of the richest men in America and labled by most as one of the people to blame for the financial crisis. Any way, its fellows are regularly interviewed by major media outlets and their reports are often published in national newspapers.

As I see it, think tanks make news by challenging authority or governmental action. In my opinion, the test isn't whether you support the think tank or its majors funder, but whether you agree with their message.

Would you have attacked the article's credibility if the Allegheny Institute was not identified by name but was instead described as a collection of educated guys who live and pay taxes in Mt. Lebanon - which is also true.

I appreciate that you don't agree with the connection between the Institute and its connection to the Trib and Scaife. I'm not here to defend them, but do you take issue with their conclusions?

April 10, 2010 11:59 AM  
Anonymous David Brown said...


I've already said they made some good points. I'm not a big fan of TIFs in general. But they can have their place when used correctly.

That's as far as I'm willing to go without hearing some other perspectives, such as from the developers or whoever our commissioners and manager were at the time of the agreement. There are two sides to every story and in my experience anti-government ideologues are among those least likely to be even-handed.

Best regards,

April 10, 2010 4:05 PM  

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