Playing games with the county budget can't continue, says D. Raja, Republican candidate for Allegheny County chief executive.
Raja discussed the budget, privatization and other issues as he announced his second initiative Thursday at a news conference at the Allegheny County Courthouse.
The initiative is his six-point plan for modernizing county government and, in large part, addresses budget shortfalls and inflated revenues.
Raja, who introduced his job creation initiative earlier this summer, began his talk by saying that “Allegheny County is essentially living on borrowed time, with regard to both budget and financial situation.”
Noting that Allegheny County has spent $185 million of one-time revenues to plug budget shortfalls, has had a debt increase of $127 million, and has imposed new taxes, Raja said that the way county officials have addressed budget concerns over the past few years is not sustainable.
Raja covered only three of the six points included in his government modernization plan in the news conference. A comprehensive explanation of the entire plan was provided in a media pack and can be found on Raja’s website.
Before he laid out his plan, Raja pointed to his accomplishments in the private and public sectors that he believes have equipped him to address budget concerns.
He held the founding of his company as an example of his budgeting know-how, explaining that he founded his company in the spare bedroom of his townhouse without any government money or bank loans.
Raja’s company, CEI, still operates in Allegheny County and employs about 300.
As far as public sector experience, he mentioned an instance during his service as a Mt. Lebanon commissioner when he restructured the local government body to eliminate what he determined to be an unnecessary and costly position and merge existing duties.
Having touted what he considered to be his qualifications, Raja went on to present the following points of his plan:
Responsible Spending and Honest Budgeting. “We cannot continue to play games with the budget,” Raja said, summarizing the first point in his plan, which calls for government to accept that there are budget shortfalls, truly account for real revenue and scrutinize expenses.
Efficient Government. Raja’s plan proposes to set benchmarks for every government department and performance standards for every government employee. Raja said these benchmarks and standards would serve not only as tools to measure productivity and efficiency but also as mechanisms to raise employee morale.
The Sunset provision in the Home Rule Charter, which calls for performance review every four years, is meaningless without true benchmarks for performance. Establishing such benchmarks is one of the first measures he would put in place if elected to office, he said.
Public Public Partnerships. Noting that there are 130 municipalities and 43 school districts in Allegheny County, Raja said, “There is clearly overlap in our services."
Where there is overlap, this point in Raja’s plan calls for consolidations of county and municipal services, such as EMS and LED lighting. By this measure, Raja aims to optimize county and local budgets, making municipalities more efficient while still preserving their diversity.
After presenting these three points, Raja took questions about the other points in his plan. His comments follow.
Privatization and Public Private Partnerships. In response to a question from this Patch reporter about his plans for privatization, Raja said that all aspects of Allegheny County government are open to privatization under his plan. Departments that consistently lose money, such as the Kane hospitals, could be modernized and made more efficient through privatization, Raja explained.
Quality of Life. Raja’s plan includes improving the county’s infrastructure and protecting its environment. In response to a question as to how his goal survives in the face of Marcellus Shale drilling issues, Raja said that his plan would implement practices and technologies to regulate and monitor environmental compliance, and measures to penalize noncompliance.
Technological Innovation. Though the point was not discussed in the news conference, Raja’s plan provides for improvements to government technology and commits him to working with area institutions, such as Carnegie Mellon University, as they continue to develop countywide e-Democracy applications for computers and mobile phones.
Raja proposes to set up self-service portals throughout the county, where the public can access government information and services.
“Allegheny County has unbelievable potential, but business as usual is stopping us from achieving that potential,” he said.
For information on Raja’s campaign, check out the Join Raja website, where you can also read more about his background.