« A Rolling Rock Question: Whither "33"? | Main | Thanks for the hits... »


sean mcdaniel

Okay Sam,

Here we go again...why should a guy in Avalon (or Wilkes Barre) pay for the bus pass of a guy who gave up a job to go back to grad school in Oakland at a state related university? Not to mention, pay that for grad student's tuition and whatever other perks he may enjoy (nubile coeds aside)?

If you subscribe to the argument that the government really shouldn't be invovled in the education business (and many libertarian types do), then why should the state even consider paying for anyone going after an advanced degree? Especically if that person may one day turn that state-funded diploma into lucrative position in the private sector?

Hell, shouldn't that person be happy with his "lesser" bachelor's degree (assuming that he took out no government sponsored low interest student loans or didn't attend a state school) if that's all he could afford? For that matter, why not just be happy with that high school diploma, which could land that dude a janitorial job at Encore on 7th?

Seriously, Sam, you and a few other libertarian type bloggers work for universities that are able to pay their chancellors, presidents and athletic coaches hundreds of thousands — even millions — of dollars a year (not to mention the scholarships they hand out to 7-foot tall white guys who can't jump or hold on to a basketball...damn you Aaron Grey!) And yet those same heavily subsidized schools put very little back into the tax coffers.

Honestly, you can't see a double standard there? I mean, I'm helping to pay those salaries of the ivory tower fat cats, not to mention the tenured, union protected profs whose salaries are close to or exceed six figures.

You need to come to the real world...or my world...where i have to hustle my own business...pay my own taxes...foot the entire bill for my health care...and fund my own retirement plan (aside from SS). Could you hack it? And i'll say this again and again until you understand it...i have no problem paying taxes that educate grad students (whatever course of study), build new ballparks...even for creating a better downtown...but i wouldn't dream of bitching about the government funding those projects if my living also was subsidized by John Q. Public.


No one's hands are clean. We all drive on govt. supported highways, put our money in banks whose employees receive food stamps, work as electrical contractors for publicly supported hospitals . . .

One thing is clear is that we each get a chance to complain about who's getting a leg up. I bitch. I dream of bitching. I dream about bitching dreams and wake up to bitch about those dreams.

I wouldn't, however, dream about the life of a graduate student, especially when they're constantly being reminded that others are carrying the water for them. Then they have to go teach a class of undergraduates and get paid 1/6th the amount of the professor who should be teaching the class in the first place.

Back to the argument at hand:

Downtown could use a lift, to be sure. Public officials should make prudent decisions regarding public investment. What the general populace should be talking about is a certain parity in the amount of investment. Why tens of millions for PNC and Millcraft. Why not a hundred thousand for Joe or Flo Schmoe who wants to redevelop a 10,000 square foot building? Why marble floors for a lawyer and not a finely crafted wig for a slightly bald elderly woman?

My guess is this, a highly articulated downtown will result from highly articulated investment tactics.

sean mcdaniel

hey, the grad student makes those decisions. if he or she doesn't know that, then don't do it. sam, doesn't complain about the work he does, but he does bitch about others getting govt money to rebuild downtown. i really don't see much difference.

Jonathan Potts

So here's what you are saying Sean: It's an all-or-nothing proposition. You either believe the government should subsidize everything, or else nothing, and if you believe the latter, then you damn well better live your life accordingly.

Does that mean that a person who used Pell grants to pay for college can't complain about PNC Park and Heinz Field getting taxpayer money? A public school teacher can't complain about farm subsidies, or about tax breaks for a Wal-Mart?

I suppose we all need to sit down and calculate how much we pay in taxes, and what benefits we receive, and use that as a basis for whether, and how much, we can complain about how the governments spends money. So if you live in a northeastern state, which pay out more in federal taxes per capita than they receive, you have more right to complain than those who live in western states which receive more than they pay out.

Sorry, I don't buy it.

sean mcdaniel

I know you don't buy it, Jonathan. My point is just this...i don't see the difference between one of those fancy lads, as sam calls, them living in a condo that received tax breaks, subsidies, whatever...and a guy who's going to school on my dime (and yours and all the rest of ours). for all i know, that grad student might end up as a boob doctor in hollywood, which really doesn't benefit the general good. but that's fine. sometimes you have to accept that your taxes really aren't going for anything worthwhile.

now before you think i'm giving you an opening with that last statement, i think the downtown redevelopment is a good thing. i like PNC Park and Heinz Field. And whatever portion of the costs for those places came out of my pocket, while i don't seem to be feeling it. Sure, you might say that it would be put to better use educating our children or repairing bridges or so many other thigs that seem more worthwhile. but the truth is, i don't think the city, county,state or federal govts. would use the money for such things. If you don't believe me, take a look at the country's schools and infrastructure. They both suck. Or maybe we could have brought the levees up to par in N. Orleans. But forever and ever, Democrats and Republicans have found creative ways to waste good money. So if you think that the government money spent on downtown development is a waste, welll, i disagree.The cultural trust can do only so much (and what they do is done with govt. money too).

Look,if i sat down with the fancy lad condo dweller and had to listen to him bitch about teachers making too much money, i'd remind him that he's living in a place built with taxpayer money. by the way, i don't quite buy sam's theory that mr. fancy lad will only pay $2300 a month instead of $2700 because the developer got a break. i think we're all smart enough to agree that the builder won't be passing along his govt. gift.

Jonathan, Sam, Mark and whoever else...the system is imperfect...and will be as long as human beings are in charge. Whether it's Clinton or Bush, Murphy or O'Connor, they'll put cronies in charge. Our best hope is that at least some of their pals will be competent. Trust me, if any us were in their shoes, we'd be doing the same. Meet the new boss...same as the old boss. That's reality.

I'll ask the question one more time, if a person can't afford grad school or a bus pass or the price of building a high rise condo, should anyone's taxes pay for it?

and i'm really searching my soul here, but other than the usual tax write offs anyone can take advantage, no sector of any govt is directly subsidizing my lifestyle (yes, some of my clients work with the federal govt. so i guess i'm not completely clean. but if one of my clients was involved in making weapons or involved in profiting from the war in iraq, i would certainly quit working for them...even if it put a big dent in my income. but hey, that's just me and my principles. if you guys have no qualms about working for heavily subsidized schools that receive huge tax breaks (to the detriment of others) and funding from the dept of defense (to create star wars shields) — and can still bitch about a developer receiving a subsidy or two — well i salute you for being able to rationalize your lives into nice little contradictory compartments.

as mark says, we all get our hands dirty driving on those roads the government paves...but the road wasn't built just for me. and the govt. isn't buying my car or paying for the gas i need to drive everyday to work with my clients.and trust me, no one is contributing a penny to my health care payments. and guess what guys, i'm not complaining. just stating the facts, because i can afford to pay for all that stuff on my own. and as i said about sam's choice to go back to school, he doesn't complain about the sacrifices he made to do so or the long hours and low pay. but i didn't get into business by choice. it was survival after the last company i worked for tanked (the second in a row). I did whatever I could to make ends meet. yeah, i even collected unemployment for six entire weeks. but it was such a demeaning process, even over the phone, that i stopped. but, i'll say it again, i'm not bitching about who ends up with my tax money. except for one case.

of all the things my taxes help pay for, believe me, i'd pay twice as much if i could make sure that not one cent paid for the development of another weapon or any sort or helped put another American in harm's way in Iraq or Afganistan. hell, i'd even drive you and sam to work each day as you sipped lattes in the back seat of my car and bitched about how pitt wasted so much state money on the petersen center. now you know where i stand. by the way, i find it hilarious that you write for a magazine that extols the many virtues of Damian Soffer and a lot of other "fancy lads" and can still whine about them.

Jonathan Potts

For someone who's not complaining, you sure do a lot of it.

sean mcdaniel

just commenting on what seems like a double standard. that's all. just about all you guys do on your blogs is complain...about everything...and then engage in some form of the "giveaway" you abhor. at least sam has a sense of humor, even when he's fired up. and he can land a punch and take one too. he seems like a standup guy.

i'll give him credit for not copping a condescending attitude when someone (mostly me) disagrees with him. hell, he really does invite "conversation," instead of making pronouncements that don't seem open for discussion — unless the comments concur with or hail the writer's wisdom.

anyway, as i said before, we probably both wish our blogs got this kind of traffic. the guy's sparking some interest in what he considers important. he should have a radio talk show. i'd listen. and be a regular caller.

Jonathan Potts

I'm yanking your chain. I think it's clear that neither Sam nor I is going to convince you that we are right, nor vice versa. We'll have to agree to disagree. Sam and I will continue tilting at windmills, and you will continue to call us out on it.

But I have to say that I'm not the only one in this discussion who doesn't appear to like people disagreeing with him.

sean mcdaniel

JP, i don't mind if you disagree. Honestly. you know my point in all this. by the way, i realized that like many people i get a break on my property tax assessment because of the 2002 baseline price. I also know that anyone who bought a house after that set point, is stuck with the burden of compensating for my not paying my fair share. i'll take advantage of the break as long as i can. but if it comes up for a vote, i'll do the right thing and vote for the yearly assessments (even if i disagree with how the system works), even though it will hurt my checking account, especially with local school taxes. To put all this into another kind of perspective, if I took a strong stand for tough gun control legislation, I wouldn't take a contract to develop a management succession program for the NRA.


Granted I might not be much of a standup guy. I guess I'm more of the snake oil salesman, lock-your-sons-and-daughters-away type. I'm also thin-skinned and probably don't like puppies as much as most people.

But I still think my viewpoint is valid. We should encourage public comment and public participation in Downtown development -- even to the detriment of large scale developers, such as PNC, Millcraft, the URA.

My ideal result would be a synthesis of successful development tactics both large and small. The result is possible if there is some sort of parity in public investment.

Sam M


Your point, which you have made before, seems to be that I have no place criticizing public subsidies because I work for a university that gets about 20 percent of its funding from the state. And that you are in a better position because you are a freelancer and pay for your own health insurance. And that I would have better standing as a critic of downtown development if I made my living the way you do. Maybe so. In fact, I have engaged in that conversation on numerous occasions and expressed my own misgivings.

Rather than diving back into that discussion, perhaps you could name a few people who do have standing to criticize subsidies. That might help me get a better idea about where you are setting the bar.

And to tweak the discussion a bit: You make much of the fact that you pay your taxes. I am sure you are aware that a large percentage of your taxes are going to pay for a war that you feel is economically, strategically and morally disastrous. So why do you continue paying your taxes? You could stop. Work under the table and take that risk. Why not do so? Surely the moral hazard you face is more troublesome than mine.

To be honest, I don't think you need to take that step to have standing as a war critic. But it certainly seems to be a logical extension of your purity test for would-be pundits.

I mean, a lot of people have gone to that extreme. Gone to jail for their beliefs. For their right to be heard. others have packed up and moved to Canada. Your logic seems to suggest that only those people have the right to complain. To propose other options. Everyone else? War mongers with blood on their hands.

So back to me: Please, please find me a candidate who will propose reforms in the American education system. I will vote for that candidate. Even if that canddate proposes a pure and free market for MFA candidates.

But as it stands, the government has its hands all over education. I don't know how to avoid it. Can you suggest a course of action? As I mentioned before, going to Carnegie Mellon isn't going to do the trick. Nor Harvard. Nor anywhere else, as far as I know.

You seem to suggest that I have to forego a career or forego political opinions. But I don't see how you can continue to play the "consistency" critique unless you apply it to yourself as well.

So to review: I will dig up the name of some war purists who have made immense personal sacrifices for the right to criticize the war from a purist's point of view--if you cna find me some people who are equally fit to make the kind of criticisms I make.

I am pretty sure I can find my list, although I am not so sure you can. If not, does that mean that you think everyone should just shut up about subsidies when confronted with the fact that they, say, attended Head Start as children or currently drive on public roads?

And again, if THAT'S not the case, please let me know where you are setting the bar.

Sam M


I think you propose an interesting compromise. My question is finding someone we might trust to administer the program. Politics is nasty business. And business makes for nasty politics.

To be fair, this is not really a fair critique, as it can be made as an objection to any proposal. Point taken.

But is this a special case? I mean, doesn't the track record of the institutions involved justify a certain level of skepticism?

Again, I am open to the notion that in my case that skepticism has devolved into cynicism. But honestly, this Renaissance is going on its seventh decade now.

Is there any way to bring people like me back into the fold? To be honest, O'Connor's first few weeks in office gave me a little glimmer of optimism. We were talking about competition for downtown development. Backing away from subsidies.

Now look where we are. Millcraft as the guiding force. And the Piatt's making a beeline for Harrisburg.

At the basic level, this isn't a "different" kind of development at all. Yeah, it's residential versus retail. But that's more a question of style. And urban trends. This is going on everywhere. It's not like the Piatt's invented it.

Seems to me like it's more of the same. Once again we have Pittsburgh's future in the hands of a politically favored few who are making big plans with everyone else's money.

Which makes me think skepticism might not be all that out of line.


I don't know the scale of the big developer subsidies, but how about an entree for small developers.

I may be off a factor of two with some of these figures, but I think you can find some real estate types and grad students to create a model pro forma for a Downtown four-story 12,000 sf bldg.

2 million dollar deal
$600,000 purchase
$1,400,000 rehab

200K for Code and Streetface items in 20-year amortized forgivable loan from URA, plus property tax abatement.

100K developer collateral

$1.7 million conventional mortgage
Principal and interest on 20 year mortgage $140,000

4 residential -- $20/sf
1 office rental -- $25/sf
1 retail -- $30/sf

Annual Income
Residential -- $72,000 (or residential may be condo)
Office -- $50,000
Retail -- $60,000
Total Income -- $182,000

With taxes, insurance, and maintenance there's not a big margin, but with some tweaking, somebody (let's hope lots of somebodies) could find the sweet spot.

sean mcdaniel

Sam sez

"And to tweak the discussion a bit: You make much of the fact that you pay your taxes. I am sure you are aware that a large percentage of your taxes are going to pay for a war that you feel is economically, strategically and morally disastrous. So why do you continue paying your taxes? You could stop. Work under the table and take that risk. Why not do so? Surely the moral hazard you face is more troublesome than mine."

you're right, it is a bigger dilemma, to me at least. However, i do have a family to support. working under the table is something the companies i work for don't do. and I won't do either. it's a stupid reason to end up in jail or paying more fines than i would taxes — and make no difference in the world (if i can). actually, all this stuff here has had a galvanizing effect on me. through my blog i've become more vocal and public (though not much looking at the headcount on my blog). So the next step is to find a way to become more vocal and more public in my opinions-- like some letters to the editors and attending protests(which i'd need to organize these sad apathetic days. but by tweaking my point you changed it. the issue is that you directly benefit from the type of subsidies you complain about. Yes, I know you're not getting rich as a grad student (and you don't complain about that), but that master's degree may pay a financial benefit in the end. i sure as hell hope so since my tax dollars are paying for it.

by the way, i'd support mark's plan too. even if the big bad URA is involved.


It seemed obvious to me that as Murphy said regarding the casino plan, the "fix is in."

Piatt was going to get this deal all along. Bob gets elected - Piatt gets the gig. Marquette was all but booted out, and Falbo was an after thought... that had be given an opportunity for consideration, but Falbo should have contributed to Bobbie's election fund.... industry may be dead, but the machine still works fine.

sean mcdaniel

falbo doesn't pay his taxes. you can check the public record. as far as the fix being in...as pete townsend said so aptly (and I'll repeat...again) meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

sean mcdaniel

hey, let's just call the whole thing off...and grab a rolling rock while they still make them here.

The comments to this entry are closed.