The Public Gets Its Say, Council Struggles to Stay Awake

Public testimony sessions on the city budget tend to be predictable affairs, and for the most part today's was no exception.

There were earnest pleas for more funding for the arts. For culture. For libraries. For youth programs. For health centers. And so on.

"I'm falling asleep in here," one council member confessed to a reporter. And the session had hardly begun.

Four council members didn't bother to show up at all. Brian O'Neill, Joan Krajewski, Jack Kelly and Frank DiCicco skipped the session, which is one of only two chances each year the great unwashed are given to sound off on the city budget. DiCicco, it should be said, had endured a long morning session on an important development in his district that was chock full of public testimony.

In any event, the usual routine was sharply interrupted when a trio of speakers (Jonathan Stein, Sherrie Cohen and Stan Shapriro) rose to take issue with the Nutter administration's tax plans, which including cutting business taxes and discarding a tax credit that would benefit the working poor. Representing a group of progressive organizations, they called on council to restore the tax credit for the working poor and asked them to limit business tax cuts to relatively small businesses.

That's when Councilman Wilson Goode Jr. began playing the role of prosecutor. If business tax cuts weren't the way to save city jobs, he wanted to know, what was THEIR job growth plan. When they hedged, he said: "So you don't have one, so you don't have one." When they failed to demonstrate perfect command of tax data, he took obvious pleasure in correcting them. Things got a little heated. There was back and forth, talking over one another, and Council President Anna Verna had to use the gavel to restore order.

Soon, though, the anti-tax cut witnesses were dismissed and the drama was over as quickly as it had begun. Next up was a plea for more funds for the Free Library.