With City Still Facing Deficit, Council Ponders A Pay Raise

A politically astute City Councilman noted nearly six years ago that it “is always a delicate matter” when politicians give themselves a raise. That Councilman, Michael Nutter, voted in 2003 to give himself and his colleagues a 15 percent pay raise and to ensure future increases based on the cost of living [COLA]. Nutter, along with 11 other Council members, then voted to override then-Mayor John Street’s veto of the legislation. 

Six years later, Nutter is the city’s mayor, trying to close a $1.4 billion gap in his five-year spending plan while seeking $125 million in concessions in negotiations with the city’s four municipal unions. And Council is again thinking about taking home more money.  Council's leaders met this morning to consider whether to accept a 5 percent COLA increase that they became eligible for one week ago at the start of the new fiscal year.

"Do we act prior to the finalization of the labor agreements or in tandem with the labor agreements," asked Council Minority Leader Brian O'Neill about the potential pay raise on his way into the meeting. "Everyone should be on the same page and not splintering off. We should be able to agree on a common action."

Nutter left the meeting in Council President Anna Verna's office just before noon, telling reporters he discussed the COLA issue with council but did not tell them how to proceed. "It's always a personal decision that elected officials have to make for themselves," he said.  Nutter will give back his COLA raise.

Council gave swift approval in 2003 to the pay raise legislation, approving the measure in just two weeks in a 12 to four vote. O'Neill, W. Wilson Goode Jr., Frank DiCicco and Joan Krajewski voted against the raises. Voting to support the legislation were Nutter, Verna, Jannie Blackwell, Darrell Clarke, David Cohen, Jim Kenney, Rick Mariano, Donna Reed Miller, Angel Ortiz, Blondell Reynolds Brown, Frank Rizzo and Marian Tasco.  Nutter, in a Council hearing one week before that vote, noted that New York City and Chicago had similar pay packages in place and about 400 city employees in Philadelphia made the same salaries as Council members.

Street, who along with other city elected officials also received a raise in the legislation, vetoed it 12 days later, sending it back to Council with a message saying the pay hikes were “inappropriate and sends the wrong message” at a time when the city was in a hiring freeze, withholding raises to exempt employees making more than $50,000 per year, trying to trim its workforce and offering raises in the range of 3 percent to 3.5 percent to the municipal unions that year. 

Council voted again on the measure two days later, overriding Street’s veto with the same 12-4 margin.  One Council seat was vacant during those votes due to the death earlier that year of W. Thatcher Longstreth. Ortiz was on his way out of Council after being defeated in the 2003 primary election. Nutter became mayor last year. Cohen died in 2005. Mariano is serving a six-year prison term on federal corruption charges.