One thing that's very frustrating for a journalist in Philadelphia is the general lack of civic outrage. Some 14 years ago, I wrote an article that led to criminal charges against the campaign manager for a would-be (until the story came out) mayoral frontrunner; the aide never even went to trial because Ed Rendell and Bob Brady testified for her as character witnesses. Remember the hoopla a few years back about state lawmakers and their midnight pay raise? In Pittsburgh, they were carrying torches and pitchforks; in Philly, it was like, "eh."
Yesterday, thanks to the general manpower crunch here at the Daily News, I was drafted back into service for a day covering City Hall -- specifically, Mayor Nutter waiting until right after an election to inform Philadelphians about his scheme to bail out Arlene Ackerman with taxes on sugared soda (thank God I drink diet!), real estate, and higher parking meter rates (which were just raised already, if I'm not mistaken).
I tried to channel Howard Beale as best as I could:
"There are no tax increases in the budget that I propose today . . . "
- Mayor Nutter, budget address, March 8
READ HIS LIPS.
When Mayor Nutter unveiled a budget plan with no tax hikes in early March - knowing that the school district was at least $400 million in the hole and possibly much more - it was the last day for would-be mayoral challengers to file petitions, and just 70 days before a lackluster Democratic primary.
Now, just 15 days after that primary, with Nutter's re-election seemingly all but assured, the mayor has pulled what you could call "a George H.W. Bush" with a last-minute flurry of proposed tax or fee increases, albeit not for the city budget but to funnel up to $110 million to bail out the cash-strapped schools.
But critics say Nutter's U-turn - reviving a once-rejected proposed levy on sugary drinks, a new property-tax surcharge, and higher parking-meter fees - is not so alarming for the policy as for what they call the last-minute, undemocratic process.
I figured Nutter's betrayal on taxes would burn through Philadelphia talk radio today; I also thought I'd get more reader emails and phone calls than usual about the piece. But when I was running an errand this morning, I flipped on WPHT's Dom G. where...it was all Anthony's Weiner, all the time. Likewise, I got no reader phone calls and one just email, from a reader who emails me on a lot of other stories. Flip-flopping on taxes cost George H. W. Bush his presidency, but in Philadelphia we don't care.
As Ross Perot used to say, that's just sad.