Pittsburgh’s Climate Budget

How Steel City identified $41M to repurpose for climate, equity, and economic recovery — without raising taxes

As part of the American Cities Climate Challenge — and in keeping with its years-long commitment to emissions reductions — Pittsburgh established big climate goals. Then, like so many cities, they had to figure out how to fund them.

  1. They identify key opportunities for efficiencies, such as moving utility billing online, sunsetting paper pay stubs, or investing in enterprise document management systems.
  2. They find partners to share costs for some programs. For example, pet spaying, while important, doesn’t support climate work directly; meantime, several nonprofit organizations run their own pet spaying programs, presenting opportunities for cost-sharing partnerships. Another key example is sports camps. Cities with professional sports teams can find sponsorship for youth sports camps.
  3. They find new revenue opportunities, often through fees or charges for programs where they make sense.
  4. They find opportunities to invest wisely. When Denver set out to pursue equity as a key goal, their PBB process revealed that a small increase in snow removal services would clear city sidewalks for residents who didn’t own cars, and rely on public transportation. Clearing city sidewalks isn’t typically something the city takes on, but in certain neighborhoods, it means the difference between reliable access to public transportation — and by proxy, schools, jobs, and services — and being stranded or susceptible to injury on the walk.
  1. Teams. It’s all about having the right people in the room. Executive leadership is fundamental to success — in some cities, that’s the Mayor, and in others with a council-manager structure, that’s the city manager. You also need the CFO, Budget Director, Operating Budget Director, procurement, legal counsel, and leaders of departments who can help identify programs and services. Pittsburgh included representatives from all 23 departments, generating key insights — and broad consensus — throughout the process.
  2. Terminology. Budget teams have their own goals — balanced budget, debt-to-service ratios, bond cycles — and it’s important to speak their language. This might mean bringing in a partner with the tools and vocabulary to really speak to the financial aspects of things.

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