That's the claim behind a new report authored by ACT UP Philadelphia. Here's a snippet from it:
The city spends money inefficiently (ware)housing people in shelters and then paying for their medical care, rather than providing housing through more cost-effective models. In addition, lack of stable housing increases the likelihood of engaging in high-risk behaviors, thus increasing the likelihood of being HIV-positive.
You can download the report in full here. The organization goes on to explain how other metropolises have saved money by spending more on housing for people with AIDS: "In New York City, 95 percent of the cost of providing supportive housing for people with AIDS was recouped through savings in emergency room visits and medical care," reads ACT UP's press release.
According to ACT UP, the waiting list for the city's housing subsidies for people with AIDS has grown in the past year, from 143 to 200 people.
Today at 1 p.m., ACT UP, Proyecto Sol and Philadelphia GAWD rallied outside of City Hall to publicize these findings.
David Dyden over at FireDogLake thought it was some big right-wing conspiracy to cut entitlements or whatever, but I found the portion of the weekends AmericaSpeaks which I wrote about here that I attended and live-blogged to be a fairly constructive endeavor. (Full disclosure: After our story was published, AmericaSpeaks asked me to live-blog their Philly event for a couple hours Saturday, and paid me a modest sum to do so. They did not tell me what to write; in fact, my instructions were completely vague. So, I guess I'm now part of Dydens vast right-wing conspiracy.) The point they emphasized is the right one: there are no easy answers, silver bullets or quick fixes. Dydens complaint, as I gather it, is that ASs workbook spent more pages laying out potential changes to Medicare and Social Security than it did to new taxes, and supposedly hyped spending cuts and downplayed potential tax increases. Perhaps. I didn't have a chance to dig into the workbook, nor did I take one home with me, so I can't really say. My bullshit detector didn't catch the apparent propaganda, however.
Of course, I was being paid.
I will say this: AmericaSpeaks was honest about its participants demographic and ideological tendencies. As they told me last week, their goal was to match the demographics of each of the 19 host cities, and to make sure minority viewpoints were represented. Consequently, they quizzed everyone at the outset on their age, race, and ideology. The audience, as I recall, skewed a bit white, old and liberal, but not by too much. And despite the alleged propaganda at play, the audience's proposed solutions were, in fact, somewhat progressive.
Participants proposed that we should:
Raise the limit on taxable earnings so it covers 90% of total earnings. Reduce spending on health care and non-defense discretionary spending by at least 5%. Raise tax rates on corporate income and those earning more than $1 million. Raise the age for receiving full Social Security benefits to 69. Reduce defense spending by 10% - 15%. Create a carbon and securities-transaction tax.
(Throughout the program, at least the part I saw, the AS folks seemed to stress that we should make cuts after the economy recovers; indeed, re-litigating the stimulus doesn't seem to have been the point.)
According to the Patriot News, some state politicians think we should sell off the state's 621 state liquor stores to get some quick cash in order to ameliorate Pennsylvania's budget crisis. Sadly, those people are Republicans. Attorney General/GOP gubernatorial nominee Tom Corbett is all for it, says his spokesman Kevin Harley:
There are a lot of variables that need to be considered before going forward with the privatization, but [Corbett] does support in general the liquidation of commonwealth assets, such as the state's liquor control system.
As for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Dan Onorato? Not so much.
"The current Wine and Spirits store system generates significant revenue for the state each and every year, and it keeps liquor out of the hands of minors," said Brian Herman, an Onorato campaign spokesman.
Having been a minor in Pennsylvania myself a few years ago, that last claim (which is routinely given by state store supporters) jumps out at me. Is it true? Or even provable? The only thing the state store system seemed to do for my peers was inspire us to befriend people 21 and older.
Perhaps it's not: According to the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 15 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds in Pennsylvania report that they've drank alcohol in the past month. (For some reason, the survey lumps 18- to 25-year-olds together, so it's impossible to measure all minors, i.e. 12- to 20-year-olds.) Compared to other states, this puts us somewhere in the middle: In Utah, the lowest amount, or 7 percent, of 12- to 17-year-olds drank in the past month; the highest was in Rhode Island, at 20 percent.
We're not the worst, but we're definitely not the best. Is being average really enough to prevent the state liquor stores from being sold?
|Illustration: Evan M. Lopez|
Charles McPherson, City Council's chief financial officer since 1991, retired a little over a year ago wherein he got a $528,000 payment from the city's deferred retirement option plan (DROP), as well as a $113,500 annual pension.
Thing is, he only kinda retired.
He's been working for the past 14 months without a salary, with an office and everything. But that may soon change. According to the Inquirer, he's rumored to be the favorite among applicants for Council's $150,000-a-year financial consultant adviser position, which is a contracted job. If he lands it, that mean's he'll be getting $263,500 a year from the city and that says nothing of the sweet DROP payment he received upon retirement.
Some other lovely facts about McPherson:
He was integral to Council's rejection of Mayor Nutter's proposed citywide trash-collection fee and sweet-drinks tax this year. Council instead raised property taxes 9.9 percent and hiked the commercial-property trash-collection free from $150 to $300.
Ah yes, bring back the guy who's responsible for this year's stellar budget. Oh, and also, he loooooves DROP:
McPherson has been perhaps city government's most ardent advocate for DROP, which he says keeps valuable employees in government. He is adamant that he would have left his post in 2005 if DROP had not been available to him. Council members who have joined DROP drawing public outrage at their large payments have often echoed McPherson's argument that the DROP payments represent their money.
|Michael T. Regan|
As a 14-page memo from Budget Director Stephen J. Agostini told us last week, the city will apparently pay for not adopting Mayor Nutter's proposed soda tax and per-house trash fees: We've got a $20 million budget gap, and that will lead to, among other things, $2.5 million in cuts to libraries.
53 jobs will be lost, and libraries are "certainly not going to be [open] five days a week," Michael DiBerardinis, special adviser to the mayor for the Free Library, told the Inquirer.
Which, of course, means people are gonna protest like craaaaaaazy. From an e-mail the Clog received this morning:
EMERGENCY RALLY This Thursday, June 3, 9:15 AM, outside Room 400, City Council Chambers, 4th Floor; then we'll Rally in front of the Mayor's Office on the 2nd Floor
If the Mayor succeeds in his plan, we will have lost 2 out of 6 library days in neighborhood branches during the last 2 years!!!
The cuts also target youth violence prevention programs, homeless services and the fire department (among other important public services!)
These cuts will be effective July 1, UNLESS WE STOP THE MAYOR!!!
You can check out the Facebook event for the rally here.
PREVIOUSLY>> Message Fail
Update: Well this is what I get for not checking my feeds before pounding the keys:
According to various sources in City Hall, including Councilmen Frank DiCicco and Jim Kenney, members of the beverage industry have offered Mayor Michael Nutter $10 million toward obesity programs in exchange for his letting go of a proposed tax on sweetened beverages.
In addition, DiCicco said an offer was brewing from members of the soda industry to provide $10 million over two years to the city for health and wellness programs. He said those funds -- which would be provided if the proposed soda tax goes away -- could also help bridge the gap.
According to the mayor's office, it's not going to work. In an email about half an hour ago, spokesman Doug Oliver told CP:
The City would not accept an offer of $10m from the beverage association. It would not provide the City with the revenue it needs over the life of the five-year plan.
What does all of this mean?
On the one hand, there's the fiscal side of things: the mayor's proposed tax of 2 cents per ounce is supposed to raise about $77 million a year, $20 million of which would go to anti-obesity efforts; although they expect only about half of that, $38.6 million, in the first year. By those calculations, the mayor's right. A one-time $10 million gift, especially if it goes entirely to anti-obesity programs, doesn't balance our budget.
Finance Director Rob Dubow told Councilman Bill Green today that none of those proceeds would go toward anti-obesity programs this year.
And sources in City Hall say the administration has been bargaining around not two cents per ounce, but three-quarters of a cent, maybe even as low as half a cent per ounce meaning the revenue could be as low as $14M or less for the first year and somewhere around 28.8 million in following years, by my calculation. With that revenue cut in half, how much, if any, will actually go to fight obesity?
Which makes this situation a little complicated: Mayor Nutter's refusal to take the $10 million could be seen as principled, yet without it or, rather, if he has to compromise his tax too much to get it passed it's not clear whether there will be any new anti-obesity funding at all.
Both the soda industry and Mayor Nutter appear to be fighting a symbolic battle, at least to some extent.
The industry likely opposes his tax and is willing to pay him $10M to kill it not so much because of what it'll do to them here, but because Mayor Nutter may be paving the way for similar taxes elsewhere (perhaps statewide taxes; perhaps a federal tax).
And it's precisely because he's paving the way, say many sources in Council, that Mayor Nutter is fighting so hard to keep this tax alive. He's staked no little reputation on being one of the first mayors to pull off such a tax.
In a marathon session, City Council moved ahead on a 9.9 percent property tax hike, a tax on smokeless tobacco and cigars, and withheld a bill that would impose the mayor's baby: the sweetened beverage tax.
It seemed earlier in the day like that tax was going to pass but Council leadership was unable, apparently, to muster the nine votes needed. The administration, however, hasn't given up on the soda tax by a long shot.
Councilman Frank DiCicco, who proposed the first property tax hike as an alternative to a flat $300 trash fee, voted "no" on the 9.9 percent hike today, favoring a 12.1 percent property tax hike that would have made up most of the difference.
Council also approved a spending bill with about $17 million in cuts, disappointing Councilman Bill Green, who has proposed more than $40 in cuts himself, mostly by not filling unfilled positions.
Right now, Council will have to find about $18 million more in revenue or in cuts.
These bills have just passed first reading they'll need to pass again next week to become law.
This morning, the regular meeting of City Council was suspended in order to hear speakers on various revenue proposals being floated by Council and the administration, including a property tax hike between 9.9 percent and 12 percent, a sugar-sweetened beverage tax (between, apparently, half a cent and two cents), and a tax on smokeless tobacco products and cigars.
The plan seems to be this:
After this hearing, Council leadership will meet with the administration and try to hammer out a deal. Council needs nine votes to pass it, but the final votes on this stuff aren't usually quite that close: leadership would like to get 11.
Assuming it happens, Council will reconvene its regular meeting, amend the bills that constitute the mayor's initial budget proposal, and allow the revised budget a first reading and initial vote which will let them vote it in finally next week.
So what's the deal going to be? Not totally clear yet. A new proposal of a 12 percent increase to the property tax seems to be gaining some traction. It would close most of the current budget gap and likely obviate the need for other taxes. Councilman Frank DiCicco, about an hour ago, seemed to voice support for it, saying:
"We're going to take a political hit no matter what we do ... I say take the 12.10 [property tax hike] and not worry about the other taxes because we can't get the nine votes anyway."
However, it seems to be up in the air still whether Mayor Nutter is willing to drop his sugary beverage tax or not he's staked some political capital on it, and has received national attention for the proposal.
An occasional, inconsistent, and improbable series on this year's budget.
The Coalition for Essential Services a coalition of labor, service, and community groups dedicated to getting a "fair budget" passed by Council meaning, in their case, preserving city services and jobs rallied outside City Hall this morning to get Council's attention focused on what they consider the fairest way to balance the city's budget: raising (or "rolling back" to mid-nineties levels) the "gross receipts" portion of the business privilege tax.
This comes as Mayor Nutter's proposed trash fee appears all but dead, and the sugary beverages tax isn't doing much better. Councilman Frank DiCicco has withdrawn his own alternative, a proposed 12% property tax hike, and Councilman Wilson Goode has introduced a two-year 9% property tax hike instead, apparently backed by democratic Council leadership, to balance the budget.
But Council is just starting to hold its neighborhood community budget hearings, and they're already being told exactly what they were told last year: "don't raise our property taxes."
Is it just me, or is it strange that we spend about half a year waiting for Council to make up its mind on given budget?
Anyway: back to the gross-receipts thing.
The idea is this: the gross receipts tax is a tax on net sales rather than revenue/income.
Because large companies can easily hide or move their income, the reasoning goes, the gross receipts tax is the only way to tax the operations of major, national retailers in the area.
One of the strongest arguments against raising this tax is that, because it taxes sales regardless of income, it can tax a business that isn't turning a profit. To answer this challenge, the Coalition is proposing that all businesses with receipts under $500,000 be exempted.
It's an interesting idea, and the exemption is clever - I don't think anyone wants to hurt small businesses right now, but getting a better cut from Coca Cola, etc. it could gain steam.
Council members Bill Green and Maria Quinones-Sanchez have so far been the most interested in potentially revising the gross receipts tax.
Anybody out there want to weigh in on this one? Got a better idea to balance the budget? (And if you're going to say, "cut city jobs," that's fine, but no getting off easy: which department anyone want to take up the line-item challenge?).
|Does he dream of BRT data sheep?|
A new and likely-doomed blog series, in which I fuss about the city budget. Oh yeah.
What, exactly does Budget Director Stephen Agostini do? The budget, of course as evidenced by the hours and hours he spends sitting in on Council's budget hearings, ever-ready with reams of numbers and answers to obscure fiscal questions.
But what else does he do, eh?
The answer, apparently, is: a lot.
A recent visit to Mr. Agostini's office confirms that the man is not only in charge of the budget, but also of overseeing stimulus spending and, the great glorious crown of municipal drudgery: fixing the lousy Board of Revision of Taxes data.
Quietly, and even amid the budget hearings, Agostini is leading a small group of people who meet every week, for "about 4 or 5 hours" to discuss the latest in efforts to repair what appears to be a city-wide data crisis.
According to Agostini, the problem has grown far beyond the BRT, since various city departments among them Water Revenue, Streets, Revenue, Records, L&I, and the Water Department have been relying on (bad) BRT figures, thereby creating even more sets of useless data. (As one source deep in the bureaucracy put it, "It's so bad.")
He estimates it'll take a year to 18 months to get it all fixed.
Why has such a task fallen on a man ostensibly busy with the budget?
"Why this fell to me is because I started working on it a year ago," he told me, shrugging.
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