letters to the editor
Government spending out of control

I appreciate that someone of the stature of Dr. Jason Margolis, a former public school teacher, wrote the outstanding letter in the Jan. 28 edition, “Mt. Lebanon Must Lose Lower-Upper Class Mentality,” in which he indicates that members of its school board and board of commissioners have imposed levels of taxation which have maintained an unnecessarily onerous burden. A virtually identical piece could be written about my community of 13 years, Upper St. Clair.

The once-austere governing bodies here have abandoned their consideration of the taxpayer. I consider that there is one demonstrated conservative on the school board, Louis Oliverio, and but one on the board of commissioners, Bob Orchowski, the only current member who had the courage and good sense to vote against the controversial and widely-opposed $27.5 million recreation center.

The tax-raisers and profligate spenders in local government are in good company. Both the state and the nation are fiscal basket cases due to irresponsible “leadership,” which has long thumbed its nose at the public.

At the state level, there are individuals like Rep. John Maher (R-Upper St. Clair), who in 2001 joined a majority of his greedy colleagues to vote for a massive retroactive boost in their pensions and those of state public school teachers and state employees with no way to pay for it. While most rank and file employees contributed 6.25 percent of their gross earnings to the pension funds with every paycheck, the Commonwealth elected to take “holidays” from paying its share. We now must look to individuals like Rep. Maher, who got us into this mess, to get us out of the hole that has been dug, a metastasizing $50 billion deficit for which us taxpayers will be footing the bill for years into the future, if not indefinitely.

At the federal level, President Obama “fiddles while Rome burns,” using his State of the Union Address to boast that the deficit is shrinking (which, of course, does nothing to diminish the national debt of in excess of $18 trillion).

Yes, the rate of increase in the annual deficit has decreased in current and recent years of the Obama presidency, but that is certain to end. The independent Congressional Budget Office notes that deficit spending, driven by Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, will explode in the years to come, a phenomenon which will be exacerbated by the rise in interest rates that is all but certain to occur as the Federal Reserve Board eases us out of the temporary and artificial zero rate environment that it has maintained for years. The most alarming forecast is that the current annual interest payment on our massive debt of $277 billion will balloon to $827 billion by 2025, an amount which is more than 27 percent of government revenue for fiscal year 2014.

Not since the tenure of Bill Clinton, which now seems like it was ages ago, has the nation enjoyed a president who placed us on to a path of balanced budgets, and the red ink that has been incurred on President Obama’s watch has been more than what was accumulated by all of the presidents who preceded him combined. Not all of this was his fault, as he was handed a country which was in the throes of a severe recession, but he has done nothing to restore our fiscal health.

The Medicaid rolls and the number of individuals who receive benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) have exploded under this president, and corporate welfare continues to flourish. Amidst all of this, the president proposes new and costly entitlements which he surely knows will not be paid for. We will pay the piper tomorrow for the excesses of today. The can continues to be kicked down the road. The road is quickly approaching the cliff.

Government at all levels has run amok in misuse of the power to tax and spend. Dr. Margolis’ letter brings the realization that in order to make an exodus from oppressive local taxes, one’s best hope is to move out of the county.

Oren Spiegler

Upper St. Clair

Bar Marco setting a precedent with no-tipping policy

The dining scene in Pittsburgh has been heating up for quite some time, thanks to cutting-edge restaurants, award-winning chefs and innovative menus, available at establishments like Salt of the Earth, Meat and Potatoes and Bar Marco. It’s the latter that has been in the news recently for following a national trend – eliminating tipping in favor of salaried servers, complete with health benefits and profit shares of the restaurant.

The first time a restaurant made waves with such a policy was more than a decade ago, when famed chef Thomas Keller replaced tipping in his New York City eatery Per Se with a 20 percent service charge. The restaurant is still in operation, and the policy still exists.

Beginning this spring, servers at Bar Marco in Pittsburgh’s Strip District will make $35,000 per year for a 40-hour work week. Prices will surely rise on some of the dishes to account for transferring the responsibility of payment from the diner to the establishment. In Pennsylvania, the minimum wage for servers is $2.83 per hour – the rest of the server’s pay comes from tips. Servers at Bar Marco will average $12 an hour with the salary.

Those who wait tables play a guessing game when it comes to how much they will make in a week. Variables include which shifts they are scheduled for, how busy the restaurant is, how good their service is, and how good the food is. There are a lot of factors out of the server’s control that, unfortunately, can hinder how much they take home at the end of a shift.

By not only offering their staff salaries, but benefits and profit shares, the owners of Bar Marco are investing in their employees. Those opposed to the change may argue that servers won’t be as attentive or provide good service if they aren’t working for a tip, but the reality is that a server could do everything absolutely perfect and still get stiffed on a tip. And, really, the servers will still be working to earn their paychecks – poor service can surely translate to termination.

Bar Marco’s plan puts consistency into an inconsistent field, and provides coveted – not to mention necessary – benefits to boot.

It will certainly be interesting to see how the change plays out, and if other area restaurants follow suit.