AFSCME DC 47 president Cathy Scott held a press conference this morning calling for the creation of a new "Revenue Tsar." The text of her prepared remarks follow...
Cathy Scott, President - AFSCME District Council 47
Press Conference - February 26, 2009
Good morning. My name is Cathy Scott. I am President of AFSCME District Council 47. I am joined here at the podium by Reverent Jesse Brown; President of the Philadelphia Area Black Clergy and others from the Coalition for Essential Services.
We thank you for attending this news conference.
To a large extent, the job of government is to provide to the citizens services and benefits that the citizens cannot manage for themselves. There are many areas where government works better, cheaper and more transparently than the citizens could do individually or collectively.
For those services, the citizens grant to the government certain rights. It’s a covenant we make with our government every election.
One of those areas is the responsibility to assess and collect the taxes and fees needed to provide those services and benefits.
At the local level, the collection of those taxes and fees is a core City service which, when collected, provide for the common good. It is one of the few City service that touches every citizen.
None of us is able to knock on our neighbor’s door and collect the monies needed to provide important City services. None of us as individuals is able to force those with the ability to pay more to actually pay more. We require government to do it for us.
During the current budget debate, the Mayor has presented only two options to weather the current monetary storm – further cuts in essential and desired City services or an increase in taxes and fees. One or the other. Take it or leave it.
At the outset of the “Community Forums to Explore Budget Cuts,” we and many others protested that the Mayor’s two choices didn’t have to be the only options.
We said the question should not be, “What cuts do we make to address the budget crunch?”
The question should be, “How do we run the best possible City with the current level of services? How much will it cost? And, where do we find the revenue?”
We stated that there were other ways to right the wobbly financial ship.
Build up income. Streamline spending. Collected uncollected revenues. Make those who get a free ride pay their fair share. Ask those who benefit more to pay more.
There have been dozens of ideas for revenue increasing measures that do not require tax increases or service cuts. The Coalition for Essential Services has compiled an impressive collection of facts and figures. We have presented plausible scenarios for increasing revenues and savings.
The newspapers, members of City Council, the Controller and economists have added to the growing pool of ideas of available revenue resources.
There are many other revenue generating ideas that should be adopted before a single additional service cut is made. In fact, if government were doing its job, we would have the funds to restore services.
Two weeks ago, standing in front of a Penn property that used to generate property taxes but now contributes far less, I stated that we and others will continue to provide additional sources of new or lost or uncollected revenue. I stated that others were prepared to identify areas for savings and enhanced revenues.
Let me briefly mention a couple of areas where the City wastes money and reduces services to citizens.
And, let me remind everyone, the budget shortfall is over a five year period. Not each of our ideas need to be employed today to stem the shortfall. But, something needs to be done to forestall unnecessary service cuts. And, there needs to be someone responsible to do it.
A partial list of work contracted out by the Health Department shows a savings of $12,395,000.00 if the work had been done by City employees.
So, as just one more example, the City could save $12,400,000 each year. Over five years, that amounts to a savings of $62 million dollars.
Additionally, this is one of those cases where you get more service from a government employee instead of privatizing jobs.
The elimination of contract pharmacists at City Health Centers would save up to $200,000 per year, a $ million over five years, and will also have the added benefit of doubling the number of prescriptions filled by an in house person familiar with the City’s system. They do the work cheaper and faster saving the City money and saving the citizen time. It’s a Win Win Win.
Each of these ideas has fallen into a black hole. There has been no call to action. No Council hearings have been scheduled. No government official has responded to collecting what is rightly owed. No Deputy has called for
change that would make revenue collection a responsibility and a priority.
The Mayor’s principal response has been to announce a Committee of fifteen, mostly business owners with their own agenda, to look at changes in the tax code.
That, and near daily meetings with the media with reams of colored charts that predict doom and gloom.
What has become clear over the period of this debate is that the government and the Mayor are much more attuned to Public Relations that to getting the job done.
The revenue system is broken. Nobody is minding the store. Our government has lost it focus.
With millions uncollected or ignored, it’s business as usual for our government.
Admit the problem. Fix it and move on to the next job.
Today, I say, stop tinkering with the tax code and collect the money owed.
Today, I say, stop the Public Relations campaign and start the effort to collect what is owed and make those who can and should pay, pay.
Today, I say to our government, “Do your job.” Uphold the covenant.
Our government has failed its responsibility to us all. If the Mayor won’t do it, get someone who will. It is past time to put someone in charge of fixing what is broken.
Today, I call for the creation of a Revenue Tsar who will ensure that those who owe money pay that money.
A Revenue Tsar, guided by a Citizen Advisory Committee including some who stand here today.
A Revenue Tsar, whose office will cost us nothing because it will be paid with uncollected revenues or new sources of revenue from grants available to the City but never applied for.
A Revenue Tsar who will ensure compliance with laws already on the books and use those laws to balance the books.
A Revenue Tsar empowered to work with every branch of government, here in Philadelphia, up the road in Harrisburg and down the highway in Washington.
The citizens would support a Revenue Tsar. No citizen wants to pay more because their neighbor pays nothing. No citizen wants their services cut because others short the system by cheating and dodging.
Continuing with revenue business as usual is a prescription for economic decline.
The vessel we call Philadelphia is sinking. The leaks are not tiny.
Only an Independent Revenue Tsar can right our ship.
Click here for Philly.com's politics page.