Budget workshops are over, what did they tell us?

The four city budget workshops organized by the Penn Project for Civic Engagement are over, and the results for all are now available online (aggregate results here, session-by-session breakouts available here).

What did the workshops teach us? How much will the administration be guided by what folks at the workshop concluded?

Let's start with the first question. It was clear that the roughly 1,800 residents who attended the workshops are loath to see city services cut any further, so much so that an overwhelming majority of groups were willing to accept tax hikes to avoid further cuts. Beyond that, there was little consensus as to what programs ought to be cut, if indeed the mayor and City Council decide that cuts are necessary (as they almost certainly will). The groups were happy to slash away at the city's vehicle fleet, and anxious to see the Eagles repay the $8 million the city claim the team owes to Philadelphia, but there were few other consensus cuts.

So what will the administration take from the sessions? By and large, the senior city officials who attended the workshops told Heard in the Hall that they were impressed at the willingness of residents to talk over such challenging issues. They also seemed somewhat surprised at how willing workshop attendees were to accept to tax increases. All who chatted with Heard in the Hall said that the exercise wasworthwhile, if only so that senior aides got the chance to see how much residents care about the decisions they are charged with making.

That said, administration officials do not think the workshops were a particularly representative example of Philadelphia. They noted, accurately, that the workshops were filled with plenty of neighborhood activists and city employees, and they susepct that might skew the workshop results a bit. They said they will also be relying on other data, such as this Pew poll of Philadelphia residents, when attempting to weigh the budget priorities of city residents. Mayor Nutter will appear on WHYY for an interview Tuesday morning, where he is expected to share his thoughts on what the workshops accomplished.

There was a good deal of back and forth throughout the workshops as to whether or not they were "fixed," and designed more or less to provide cover for an administration bent on cutting services. The menu of budget options presented at the workshop was certainly not comprehensive, but it's worth asking: could any menu designed to be digested in a few hours possibly contain every option? In any event, you can see some of that debate at this Young Philly Politics post. For a comprehensive take from workshop co-organizer (and former Inquirer Editorial Page Editor) Chris Satullo, see this fascinating post on WHYY's It's Our City blog.

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