House Bill 1828, the legislation Philadelphia needs to balance its five-year financial plan and avert the layoffs of 3,000 city employees on Oct. 2, is about to come up for a vote in the state House Rules Committee. But it won't get a shot at approval by the full House until tomorrow. The legislation, passed by the House on Aug. 5 and then passed with amendments by the state Senate on Aug. 26, has been amended once again. It's being printed right now and then must be posted for one hour before the Rules Committee votes on it.
Johnna Pro, a spokeswoman for state Rep. Dwight Evans, just told us the language of the bill has been floated to the Senate for its consideration. The House is stripping from the bill several Senate provisions that alarmed municipal union leaders. Gone are mandatory remedies for some financially troubled municipal pension plans. A provision that would have required new Philadelphia workers to go into a new, lesser-expensive pension plan, is gone too.
The House won't be voting as a whole on the legislation until sometime tomorrow. House rules require that amended legislation be posted for 24 hours before that vote, unless there is a vote to suspend that rule. Pro seemed to think that rule will be suspended. House Majority Leader Sam Smith told us he's not so sure, which means it may be a late Friday here in the Capitol.
Pro stressed that the "heart of the bill remains intact," the original language that allows the city to increase its sales tax by 1 cent on the dollar and delay some payments to the pension plan. That's worth a combined $700 million. That will help the city avoid implementing a fallback budget with massive layoffs and service cuts.
The big question to answer next: Is the Senate, controlled by Republicans, on board with the language from the House, which is run by Democrats? "I think the our hope is the Senate is on board," said Pro, noting that Senate staffers have been involved in the back-and-forth that created the language.
Smith, speaking to reporters just before the upcoming vote was announced, said he hadn't seen the new version but worried that it has been "neutered" with the Senate provisions being deleted. "It doesn't do anything to put real pressure on the distressed pension systems," Smith said. "Our concern is we're not going to come back to that issue for another four years."