Munching on a cheese omelette and whole wheat toast, Mayor Nutter talked about the national economic downturn and the Philly budget crisis this morning with the breakfast crowd at the Station Diner in West Philadelphia.
"Can I put this on your tab?" asked Ron Braxton, 61, of West Philadelphia, when Nutter rolled in to the crowded eatery on 52nd and Market streets at about 9:30 a.m. But Nutter shot right back: "Come on man, you know we ain't got no money."
Nutter recently announced that the city faces a new $1 billion funding gap over five years, which raises the prospect of service cuts and tax hikes. A previous $1 billion gap was in the fall closed through cuts and layoffs. Due in part to public criticism over the last round of cuts, Nutter plans a massive public-engagement process to get citizen input on how to balance the next budget.
Today's neighborhood visit was part of that outreach. Nutter sat at a table with a group of local residents and workers who are doing construction on the nearby Market-Frankford subway line to talk about the current financial situation. He asked the group if they were having financial troubles of their own, what the situation was like in the neighborhood -- and what the city should be doing right now.
Retired West Philadelphia resident Layton Austin, 61, told Nutter to "try and create jobs for some of these people." He added that if someone "can't get no job, he's going to turn to crime."
Peter Fanous, 32, a Cherry Hill resident working on the SEPTA project, cautioned Nutter about tax increases. "People can't put food on their tables and the government is talking about extra taxes. It's not helping. It hurts." Fanous said.
But he then acknowledged to Nutter: "You're in a position that's a no win situation."
Nutter told the group he was hopeful the city would get some money through President Obama's proposed $825 billion stimulus package, but stressed that he still has to make payroll every two weeks. But he promised he would work round the clock for the city.
"We're all in this together. We're not going anywhere. You're not going anywhere," Nutter said.
While Nutter's breakfast table was largely sympathetic to the city's troubled financial situation, some people in the diner posed tough questions to the mayor. Dennis Hopson, 32, of West Philadelphia, came up to Nutter to say that he hasn't been able to find a job since getting out of prison in September, despite visiting a city office for ex-offenders.
"Go back because we've made some changes. We'll see how we can help you out," said Nutter, who also asked Hopson to give his name to his aide. "I appreciate you approaching me. You don't want to do that other thing. You've been down that road."
Hopson, who said he has four sons, said he hopes Nutter can help him. "I wish he would do more for us coming home. He started this program for ex-offenders. Every ex-offender I know says the same thing."