Archive: August, 2009
As Mayor Nutter made his rounds recently in the State Capitol, urging lawmakers to pass the city's budget-relief legislation, he was shadowed by an unlikely figure: GOP City Controller candidate Al Schmidt.
"I was following in his wake, trying to correct the record," Schmidt said. "I wanted to explain that Philadelphia was in dire financial shape not simply because of the national economy, but because of political decisions that this mayor and former mayors and City Council have made."
It sounds strange, doesn't it? A Philadelphia Republican clashing with a powerful Democrat for actual ideological reasons? And on a matter of serious public importance?
Pension reform remains the issue of the day, with state House members expected to vote Sept. 8 on a bill that municipal union leaders equate to the squelching of the collective bargaining process.
At noon today, six City Council members - Darrell Clarke, Joan Krajewski, Brian O'Neill, Curtis Jones Jr., William Greenlee and Jannie Blackwell - met privately for about an hour to get up to speed on House Bill 1828. There were no decisions to be made, although Council members began speculating whether Philadelphia's House delegation will uniformly back the bill, as did the Senate delegation last week.
The four municipal unions are hoping they don't. Efforts are ongoing by them to either strip the pension reform measures - which would freeze benefits for current members and reduce benefit costs for new hires by 20 percent - or to at least amend the bill to make it more palatable.
Mayor Nutter this afternoon came out in clear favor of Senate legislation that both gives financial relief to Philadelphia while mandating changes in pension benefits strongly opposed by the city's unions. He said so in a letter to Republican Senate Majority Leader Domenic Pileggi (see below).
What the unions - all four are currently negotiating new contracts with the administration - are wondering is what role Nutter had, if any, in drafting the measure, which could give the mayor more leverage in the collective baragaining and arbitration processes.
The full Senate is poised to vote on the legislation, as outlined in today's Inquirer story, sometime later today.
Mayor Nutter refused to offer an opinion this morning on sweeping pension reform provisions that, for now at least, are part and parcel of Philadelphia's yet-to-be-passed budget relief legislation.
Nutter said he had not had a chance to thoroughly review the 50-pages worth of pension-related amendments, which were attached to the bill last night. Nutter said also that the bill could be changed again in the next few days.
If the bill as drafted becomes law, it would provide Philadelphia the penny-per-dollar sales tax hike and pension payment restructuring Nutter has said the city desperately needs to avoid crippling service cuts. Nutter, of course, very much wants that, and as quickly as possible.
A routine meeting of the State Senate Finance Committee at 5 p.m. today is packed with import for Philadelphia.
A senate committee vote is expected on the city's sales tax and pension payment deferral requests, which are the only things standing between Philadelphia and what Nutter has called the "doomsday plan c" budget.
The committee, though, will also take a look at a couple of very intriguing amendments to the legislation, including a possible end to the highly controversial DROP program for elected officials (which State Sen. Larry Farnese has called for) and fundamental reform of the state municipal pension system, including, possibly, Philadelphia's.
With the "doomsday" budget deadline approaching and the city's sales tax and pension legislation still bottled up in Harrisburg, some observers have been quietly suggesting that Nutter and City Council ought never to have put the fate of Philadelphia's budget in the hands of state lawmakers.
"Heard in the Hall" asked Nutter if, in retrospect, he would have done anything differently.
"This is the worst kind of Monday morning quarterbacking. We've been very responsible here," he said.
With the city's budget in limbo, state senators this morning used a hearing on a Philadelphia fiscal relief bill to explore potential statewide pension reforms, including changes that would, if enacted, usurp local control over Philadelphia's pension fund and public employee retirement benefits.
Ostensibly, the hearing was about Philadelphia's request to state lawmakers that the city be permitted to increase its sales tax from seven percent to eight percent, and to restructure and delay pension plan payments. Without those measures, Mayor Nutter has said he would be forced to cut $700 million from the city's budget over the next five years, requiring thousands of layoffs and sharp service reductions.
But while city officials would like nothing better than for Harrisburg to approve those requests quickly and with little debate, the State Senate is instead using the legislation as an opportunity to explore far more comprehensive pension reforms.
After 20 years, Philadelphia has a new waterfront chief.
Mayor Nutter this afternoon named Thomas P. Corcoran to lead his year-old Delaware River Waterfront Corp., which replaced the Penn's Landing Corp.
Corcoran, chosen from an applicant pool of more than 100 candidates, seems a natural for the job: For 25 years, he has led Camden's efforts to revitalize its waterfront, as president and CEO of the Cooper's Ferry Development Association.