PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — For almost two decades, a penny of every dollar you’ve spent in Allegheny County has gone to the Regional Asset District Board — the “RAD” board for short — a group of appointed members who decide how and where one percent of county sales tax money is spent.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald thinks it’s time to take a closer look.
“This is a good debate to have for the community,” he said. “What do we want to spend our 1 percent sales tax money that we get locally on?”
The RAD tax was established in 1995 to relieve property taxes, pay off stadium debt and shore up the finances of the region’s major recreational and cultural assets such as Phipps Conservatory and the Pittsburgh Zoo — which were struggling at the time.
But today those institutions are thriving and the RAD Board has broadened its reach, now awarding smaller contributions to more than 120 arts and theater groups.
But now Fitzgerald and the Port Authority’s Steve Bland would like to expand the definition of regional asset to include mass transit.
They’re asking the board for $3 million a year for the next 10 years as part of a plan to avert a 35 percent reduction in service cutbacks over the objections of the cultural groups.
“Is that really what the funds are for?” asked Mark Clayton Southers with the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater. “I’m under the impression they’re for the arts. So, are we going to be doing plays on the back of buses now?”
But Bland says without mass transit the show won’t go on.
“Frankly, a lot of the folks who get funding through RAD aren’t going to have patrons and employees who are able to get to their facilities without it,” he said.
And while Fitzgerald believes that institutions like the zoo and Phipps should continue to get RAD funding, he believes that RAD has already fulfilled its mission of putting them on firm footing.
Both institutions have undergone massive expansion under RAD. Phipps alone has added the visitors center, a major rain forest exhibit and is now constructing this center for sustainable landscapes.
Its director, Richard Piacentini, makes $272,000 a year in salary and other compensation and zoo director Barbara Baker makes $288,000.
“I’m sure when the public wanted to fund these institutions they weren’t thinking of their tax dollars were going to go to funding half million dollar salaries,” Fitzgerald said. “I don’t think that’s what they intended.”