A new and likely-doomed blog series, in which I fuss about the city budget. Oh yeah.
"The Government," Mayor Nutter told me, very firmly, "is not growing."
Period. That's it. Read. My. Lips.
Well, he didn't say that, but he kind of implied it. I stammered a bit and waved a piece of paper entitled "City Manager's Quarterly Report" at him, but the mayor wouldn't budge. "The government is not growing," he said, and patted me good-naturedly on the back, as if to say, "But nice try."
It's a claim he's made several times, most notably in a recent letter to the Inquirer:
Several opinion pieces may lead readers to believe the city has relied only on revenue measures to solve the multibillion-dollar deficits it has faced since the world economic collapse. That is false. Excluding pensions and debt service, the city's costs this year will be about $160 million lower than in fiscal 2008. A big part of that reduction has been in personnel costs. Since December 2008, the city's general-fund workforce has shrunk by about 800, and when part-time and temporary positions are added, there are 1,250 fewer employees now than at the end of 2008. And for the first half of this fiscal year, overtime was down by a third from where it was last year.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the government, this man is saying, is not growing.
But this handy chart I made says differently:
|By Isaiah Thompson, Data: City of Philadelphia|
Here's what the chart tells us:
- While it's true that Nutter cut jobs way down from December 2008, that date represented a high-water mark; in other words, Nutter, at the time, was already presiding over the highest level of staffing in four years.
- Starting this year, we can expect to see the city's staff levels go back up, eventually back to where they were in 2005 which was a full three years before the great financial collapse.
- Between 2008 and 2009, the mayor did eliminate actual positions but he also eliminated plenty of vacant positions.
- The number of actual positions, while shrinking, has stayed in more or less the same relative in proportion to the number of budgeted positions.
Look: I'm not some small-government nut. Putting on my columnist's hat for a minute, I don't really care all that much if we do or don't add 100 jobs. It's a small part of the overall budget, and a relatively small part of the overall tax burden. But in a budget proposal which makes virtually no cuts on the one hand, and raises taxes on the other, it's worth asking whether the administration is making its sacrifices this year, too.
Nutter's response, when I first tried to run these numbers by him, was "Talk to Dubow" referring to Rob Dubow, Director of Finance.
Dubow, initially, told me that the city is not adding staff. Until he admitted that, well, yes, it is adding a few positions but not that many, and, he said, the city expects some of these staff investments (e.g technologyth) to result in "efficiencies," which they have not yet budgeted for.
Which is all well and good, but not not quite what the mayor said, when he said, "The Government is not growing."
|Photo | Neal Santos|
At the end of last year, City Paper's Andrew Thompson did a piece on Brett Mandel, the former director of Philadelphia Forward who seemingly checked out of city politics after being disillusioned with Mayor Nutter:
"[Nutter] didn't promise that we would tread water. He promised a renaissance," Mandel says.
And when the campaign was over, he threw up his hands and walked away. "For the last two decades, I've been screaming and yelling about Philadelphia, inside city government, outside city government," he says. "That can be frustrating. Dealing with the political structure is a pain."
We thought he might be back, though. (In fact, the piece mentioned that he had become a committee person for the city's Eighth Ward but just as a hobby.) Recently, he's been circulating critiques of Nutter's budget, which you can read here. Also, he's speaking at Penn's Houston Hall (Room 281) on April 22 at 6 p.m., about such problems he has with the budget. Additionally, he's pushing for a "thorough purge" of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, and asking that reform-minded folk attend new candidates' fundraisers with him.
Can we call it a comeback?
|Photo | Lara Coleman|
Coca-Cola employees, restaurant owners, and even Councilpersons Brian ONeill and Frank Rizzo Jr. gathered today at noon at City Hall to protest Mayor Nutter's proposed 2-cent-per-ounce soda tax.
Since the tax was revealed earlier this month, Mayor Nutter has been arguing that it will not only generate revenue, but also promote better health and lower obesity rates for Philadelphia residents. Protesters, however, question why the city is only targeting soda as a perpetrator of obesity.
"What about McDonalds or Tastycakes?" asks Frank Berthcsi, an employee of Coca-Cola for 35 years. (More than 50 Coca-Cola employees attended the rally.) Its unjust the way theyre singling out soda companies.
"If the Mayor taxed cheesesteaks he'd be out of office in a day," adds Ed Doile, a Coca-Cola production employee.
"I coach high school football," he continues. "The kids drink soda every day." Haasz also argues that soda drinkers are often healthy, citing his two sons as avid soda drinkers who have never been overweight.
Coca-Cola employees claim the tax will cause as many as 2,000 employees to lose their jobs, starting with those in management.
"I'd like to retire from Coca-Cola, but I won't if this goes through," says John Ilisco, a manager at Coca-Cola. "Managers are first to go."
Coca-Cola and Pepsi employees, along with the American Beverage Association, organized the event.
I know. I can't believe it either: Video? On the internet?
Oh, Brave new world!
Anyway, leave it to our brilliant friends at It's Our Money (or, as we call it around the office, "Three Men; One Blog; and a Whole Lot of Municipal Finance," to figure out how to make this "moving picture" of the mayor's budget address yesterday boiled down into four minutes.
Also, for anyone even remotely interested in what happens to this year's budget (Will Nutter succeed in implementing a really high tax on soda? Will "trash fees" make it through Council?) these guys will be covering the hell out of it, so put 'em on your reader.
In a Capitol Wire piece published earlier this week, State Rep. Dwight Evans makes a fairly scary prediction about the future lack of state funding for state-related universities, including Temple University and Lincoln University:
After Penn State President Dr. Graham Spanier, University of Pittsburgh President Mark Nordenberg, Temple President Ann Weaver Hart and Lincoln President Dr. Ivory Nelson expressed mostly gratitude for what they received from the state this fiscal year and what theyre proposed to get next year, [House Appropriations] Committee Chairman Dwight Evans, D-Philadelphia, told them to prepare for a complete cut in the future. Although Evans did not indicate university funding would be affected next fiscal year, he said state funding could be eliminated entirely in subsequent years.
Im surprised youre receiving any funding at this particular point, he said. The state system has always been there. Not that I want to be gloom and doom, but I think its a matter of time. Its a matter of time that you may not be receiving any appropriation from this state.
Evans said its not anybodys particular fault, its where we are today.
(He thinks schools are safe for now because of stimulus dollars.) As it stands, Temple will get $165 million from Gov. Rendell's budget for the next fiscal year, and Lincoln will get $14 million.
The Fix is In, Part Two: How the table games amendment was rammed through the House, and opponents stifled.
(Apologies: this reporter clicked "Publish" instead of "Preview" and subjected early post readers to horrendous spelling mistakes).
(In Part One: The Great Santoni, Gaming Oversight Chairman Dante Santoni concocts a super-amendment to destroy all other amendments and rewrites the table games bill to include all sorts of earmarks and casino-friendly provisions).
By Monday night, House legislators saw that the fix was in: the dozens of amendments to the table games bill drafted by House members â each of which would, in theory, require a reading and open debate before the public on the House floor â had been obliterated by the omnibus Santoni amendment. It was to be an all or nothing vote.
Part Two: The Gag.
The debate carried on for six hours, as Rep. Santoni stood for interrogation by oppositional Republicans and a few furious Democrats, who accused him of leaving them out of the process.
Rep. Mike O'Brien (D-Philadelphia), for example,a member of the gaming Oversight Committee, who represents part of Fishtown, asked why, when he called on Friday to make inquiries on the massive bill that had suddenly appeared, Committee staff was unable to help him.
"This process reeks," O'Brien said. "Tonight, I will correct the error of my vote in Gaming Oversight, and I will vote 'no.'"
Rep. Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) spoke at length and passionately against the bill, reading from a long list of bizarre and suspicious earmarks, and criticizing the bill's failure to adopt Attorney General recommendations that law enforcement authority be taken away from the gaming Control Board.
Rep. Paul Clymer (R-Bucks) condemned the bill as a giveaway to the casinos, citing the low license fees ($16.5 million versus a $50-$60 million recommended figure Clymer had obtained from an investment specialist) and the low tax rates (14% versus the 55% tax on slot revenues).
Clymer referenced a group of consultants from the Innovation Group â a company with strong ties to the gaming industry â who had met with House leaders and recommended those very figures.
"It's exactly what they said at that meeting that we're finding in this Amendment," he cried. "You can see the voice and face of the casinos' influence in this legislation."
But Clymer's heaviest condemnation was on moral grounds, calling provision for allowing credit to gamblers "horrendous."
"What are we doing to our fellow man?" he asked. "I hope Governor Rendell, if this bill gets to him, will veto it on that issue alone."
Finally, around 8:00 P.M. the amendment was put to a vote. It passed: 97-95. Click here to see how each member voted.
The amendment had passed, but the night wasn't over â not quite.
A number of Representatives had managed to get new amendments on the agenda.
Representative Keller (D-Philadelphia), who had voted for Santoni's amendment, nonetheless offered a new amendment to remove the language in Santoni's bill allowing Foxwoods Casino to extend its license. The motion failed.
Representative Clymer, not going down without a fight, had several amendments. One would require that quarterly statements be sent to gamblers, letting them see on paper how much they had spent at a given casino. It failed.
Another amendment banned free alcohol in casinos; three more amendments tried to raise the licensing fee for table games from $16.5 million to between $25 and $75 million.
"Whether you agree or disagree with gambling, we can try to get the most out of it for the state," Clymer later told me. "If we did $50 million we'd get in approximately $600 million" - which is an increase of $400 million dollar and that would fix the governor's $200 million deficit."
Such a measure, one would think, would be amenable to everyone in the House â unless, of course, House members' loyalties were to the casinos themselves, and not the state coffers.
And, in fact, these amendments were not voted upon. Instead, any House members trying to further amend the bill were silenced â by a single old man: the 88-year-old Representative Frank Oliver (D-Philadelphia) who offered the obscure "motion to move the previous question."
I don't know what it means, but I've learned what it does: it ends debate, on the spot. The motion carried. Neither Clymer's amendments nor anyone else's would be given even the dignity of a public hearing, much less be voted upon.
The gag had worked.
Listen below to some of the testimony in Monday's debate on the House floor.
|Rep Paul Clymer|
|Rep Mike Turzai|
Now, I'm still pretty new in town, so I might not have a perfect feel for how these things work up here. That said, I've been around enough union negotiations to begrudgingly admire the insane, ballsy, never-gonna-happen tack the Transit Workers Union Local 234 took yesterday, when it announced that maybe, just maybe, it would strike at the end of this week, which hey wouldn't you know it? just so happens to coincide with the World Series. Oh, the happenstance.
But to be clear, they don't WANT to strike during the World Series. No, that would be mean, and terribly impolitic during this city's moment in the national spotlight. Just, if SEPTA doesn't give them everything they possibly want, right now, they'll have no choice. And shucks, that would be so darn unfortunate.
"This is the last week we are going to work without a contract," said Willie Brown, local TWU president, whose more than 5,000 members have been working without a contract since March 15.Yet Brown's message to World Series fans was this: "We're going to do everything we can not to have a strike."
Everything, that is, except be reasonable. See, everywhere else on the planet, workers especially government workers have taken to the warm embrace of the words "wage freeze." Because "wage freeze" is slightly less-sucky than "massive layoffs" and "draconian pay cuts." Our friends in the TWU, however some of whom might be considered slightly overpaid are balking at two years of wage freeze, followed by a 2 percent raise the years after. And that's understandable, I suppose. I've spent the last few years in companies with "wage freezes" too, and it definitely is an undesirable situation. But their reasoning that they got raises a few years back, when SEPTA was in even deeper in the hole strikes me as a bit flawed. As in: If you rolled your car down a mountain and flipped it a bunch of times and totaled it a few years back, what's the harm in driving it into the ditch now?
Predictably, the union is refusing to up workers' healthcare contributions, and wants the city to increase its allocation to the union's pension plan. In a normal universe, where the city is cratering in fiscal crisis, these are the kinds of demands that get laughed out of the negotiating table. But this universe is not normal. This is the week of the Series, where thousands of crazy, drunk, poll-climbing, car-flipping freaks will crowd into South Philly to watch the Phils try to repeat. And then they'll want a ride home.
To the TWU, this is, of course, leverage, which is a polite word for extortion. The city hardly wants its moment in the sun sullied by having its major transit system effectively shut down. So the union figures this is their week to make a move. Can't argue with the strategy.
Of course, if the trains stop running this weekend which is also Halloween, wouldn't you know people are gonna be pissed. At SEPTA workers, not the city. And rightly so; I doubt SEPTA workers will find much sympathy in an era of 10 percent unemployment and budgets that already ooze red ink. So when the TWU says it doesn't want to strike, it doesn't. It just wants Nutter SEPTA to blink first. It's a schoolyard dare. The TWU wants to see how much backbone City Hall SEPTA officials have.
I'm curious to see what happens if the tables turn: If Nutter SEPTA turns them away, does TWU have the gumption to follow through, to strike during the Series?
EDIT & CORRECTION: As Gary from the comments pointed out, SEPTA is not a city agency and therefore TWU does not negotiate with Nutter and co. You learn something every day.
Friday morning, signs went up on every entrance to every library in the city's system, from Central on down, reading thusly: All Free Library of Philadelphia Branch, Regional and Central Libraries will be Closed Effective Close of Business October 2, 2009.
Upon seeing such, I rang Andy Kahan, the Director of Author Events at Vine St.'s Free Library of Philadelphia and asked what this meant at first glance.
First is that all libraries are now in a diminishing borrowing period and that all materials will be due on October 1. As for events and readings, Kahan says, though signals are mixed, he and his staff are preparing for the worst.
"Author events would be the only program that continues and I'm in the process of negotiating with other nearby venues just in case," says Kahan. "Parkway institutions such as Friends Select School and Moore College of Art have stepped forward and offered their auditoria to meet our need. I'm trying to figure out which authors to place where based on the size of the audience and the institutions interest and projection capacity. I'm looking to nearby institutions because, in the event we can't reach all attendees with news of the venue changes, people who just show up will know from our illuminated signs which parkway venue is hosting our event and they won't be late to the party."
One Book, One Philadelphia programming doesn't begin until January 2010 so it's still a bit early for the Free Library's event heads to look elsewhere but they are prepared to take events elsewhere if necessary. Kahan is, like a lot of us, hopeful that Pennsylvania representatives will heed Mayor Nutter's warnings. "On one hand the House seems willing to pass the 1% tax and pension deferments, which would allow the city to continue functioning; the Senate is not," claims Kahan. "We're optimistic they'll work through their differences before the October 1 deadline."
Kiss a librarian today. It may be one of your last chances for a while.
In November, Mayor Michael Nutter said that he'd shut down 68 out of the city's 81 swimming pools. But then the people spoke, and Nutter listened (whether that's for the best or not, we have yet to see). Last Thursday, he said that he'd be keeping 46 pools open a big difference from the original 13. This obviously means all sorts of great things: recreational departments like Mander Playground (33rd and Susquehanna) will be able to keep their summer camps robust, community members without AC will have access to a cooling alternative, and crime will likely be reduced because of the 'ol routine activities theory keep people busy, and they won't get into trouble as often.
Or will they?
Caterina Roman, a criminal justice professor at Temple University, has an interesting theory about what may happen as a result of closing some pools and keeping others open. In 2003, she published a study on the effects of shutting down schools and displacing students to education centers in other neighborhoods. "We found that there was an increase in assaults, as a result of placing rival gangs together or just plain rival communities together." While she hasn't completed a study on displacing students or adults as a result of pools, she predicts that it may have the same effect. She emphasized that this was merely conjecture, but still thinks police should take it into consideration once pools open.
She also thinks officials should have thought about this while deciding which pools to close. When I spoke with Alan Joinville, public affairs coordinator for the rec department, a few days ago, he gave me a list of criteria that they used to determine which pools would stay and which would go the pool's attendance, size, age, condition, access and location. He didn't say anything about gangs.
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