Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Draft budget testimony sent out in error

Yikes!

Draft budget testimony sent out in error

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Yikes!

That is what some folks in the Nutter administration may be uttering this afternoon after City Council offices received a still-in-the-works version of testimony to be presented Wednesday by chief of staff Clay Armbrister.

Kicking off a series of hearings on the 2010 budget, Armbrister is to present an overall picture of the administration's five-year financial plan.

The draft testimony that was distributed in error - courtesy a "computer glitch," said a Council aide - does so, and more.

Sent out via e-mail, the testimony is in a Microsoft Word document that shows where words were deleted and inserted, and who made those changes. It also includes some personal opinions about what should or shouldn't be included.

For instance, in one section about what the administration is seeking from the city's four municipal unions, Budget Director Stephen Agostini jotted down this thought in an editing comment:  "I do not think we should include this with our labor concessions number. The unions have already said that they want to take credit for this in negotiations and we shouldn't give them more ammunition to do that."

It's not clear what the "this" is that Agostini referred to.

Agostini's insights also surface in another section, this one about taxes. "I don't think we should say that this was a tax increase - I think that will come back to haunt the mayor. I do think it's fair to say that the wage and business tax have already made a substantial contribution and to closing the cap and we're not going to increase them because of the damage that would do to the economy."

Almost all the changes appear to be made by Agostini or someone writing under the name "City of Philadelphia."

In yet another part about taxes, the original testimony said, "Similarly, the Administration did not consider new wage and business privilege tax increases because of the potential long term damage that would be done to Philadelphia's economy." That was changed, courtesy of  "City of Philadelphia," to say: "Similarly, while the Administration did consider wage and business privilege tax increases because of our commitment to explore all optinos, we nevertheless strongly rejected recommending any increases in these two taxes because of the significant potential long-term damage that would be done to Philadelphia's economy."

Among one of the many words deleted in the course of editing was "automatically" - as in: "In FY13, the sales tax rate will revert back to 7%." The original version stated: "In FY13, the sales tax rate will automatically revert back to 7%."

So how did the unfinished version of Armbrister's testimony get out?

Sharon Ortiz, Council's director of administrative services, blamed the matter on a "glitch in the city's e-mail system" that did not allow her to view the testimony in its final form - only in the draft form showing all the changes. Ortiz received the testimony electronically from an administration aide, and then forwarded copies to Council offices. That's when she realized the wrong version was being viewed.

"It wasn't their fault," Ortiz said of the administration's efforts to get the right stuff out. "They sent it but we couldn't get it."

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The Philadelphia Inquirer's Chris Hepp, Tricia Nadolny, Julia Terruso, and Claudia Vargas take you inside Philadelphia's City Hall.

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