Thursday, July 31, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Council begins budget hearings without all the details

On March 15, when scores of residents testified at Council’s first hearing on Mayor Nutter’s budget, something was missing. Citizens didn’t have access to Nutter’s “budget detail,” a document thousands of pages long that provides specifics on every dime the city plans to spend next fiscal year. In excruciating detail, it spells out the objectives of each department, employees’ salaries and benefits, overtime costs, contractors, equipment funding and more. Critics say that without it, residents aren’t able to ask educated questions at budget hearings. “Being able to take a look at the budget is a basic tool of democracy,” says Christie Balka, advocacy director for Public Citizens for Children and Youth. “To not provide it in a timely manner seems so inconsistent with all the good-government efforts of this administration.” Zack Stalberg, president of the good-government group Committee of Seventy, says the budget detail should be available before budget hearings. “The public and the media that's trying to interpret this stuff have the right to see it in advance,” he says. “There’s a lot of things that can be hidden in a budget of that size.” Mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald says the budget detail will be publicly available by April 2, when hearings begin on city departments’ finances. He also points out that two budget documents are already online — the city’s five-year financial plan and its budget-in-brief. Neither is as substantial as the budget detail, however. Council also doesn’t currently have access to the budget detail, according to Jane Roh, spokeswoman for Council President Darrell Clarke. She expects Council to get it by Wednesday. Council is also holding a budget hearing on the city’s five-year plan today. Balka wonders how Council members “can do their jobs” without the document. So why won’t the Nutter administration unleash its budget detail already? “The fact is the enormous document has not yet been sent to the printer,” says McDonald.

Council begins budget hearings without all the details

Critics say that without Mayor Nutter´s "budget detail," residents aren’t able to ask educated questions at budget hearings.
Critics say that without Mayor Nutter's "budget detail," residents aren’t able to ask educated questions at budget hearings. Akira Suwa/Staff Photographer

On March 15, when scores of residents testified at Council’s first hearing on Mayor Nutter’s budget, something was missing.
Citizens didn’t have access to Nutter’s “budget detail,” a document thousands of pages long that provides specifics on every dime the city plans to spend next fiscal year. In excruciating detail, it spells out the objectives of each department, employees’ salaries and benefits, overtime costs, contractors, equipment funding and more.
Critics say that without it, residents aren’t able to ask educated questions at budget hearings. 
“Being able to take a look at the budget is a basic tool of democracy,” says Christie Balka, advocacy director for Public Citizens for Children and Youth. “To not provide it in a timely manner seems so inconsistent with all the good-government efforts of this administration.”
Zack Stalberg, president of the good-government group Committee of Seventy, says the budget detail should be available before budget hearings.
“The public and the media that's trying to interpret this stuff have the right to see it in advance,” he says. “There’s a lot of things that can be hidden in a budget of that size.”
Mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald says the budget detail will be publicly available by April 2, when hearings begin on city departments’ finances. He also points out that two budget documents are already online — the city’s five-year financial plan and its budget-in-brief. 
Neither is as substantial as the budget detail, however.
Council also doesn’t currently have access to the budget detail, according to Jane Roh, spokeswoman for Council President Darrell Clarke. She expects Council to get it by Wednesday. Council is also holding a budget hearing on the city’s five-year plan today.
Balka wonders how Council members “can do their jobs” without the document.
So why won’t the Nutter administration unleash its budget detail already?
“The fact is the enormous document has not yet been sent to the printer,” says McDonald.

On March 14, when scores of residents testified at Council's first hearing on Mayor Nutter's budget, something was missing.

Citizens didn't have access to Nutter's "budget detail," a document thousands of pages long that provides specifics on every dime the city plans to spend next fiscal year. In excruciating detail, it spells out the objectives of each department, employees’ benefits, overtime costs, contractors, equipment funding and more.

Critics say that without it, residents aren't able to ask educated questions at budget hearings. 

"Being able to take a look at the budget is a basic tool of democracy," says Christie Balka, advocacy director for Public Citizens for Children and Youth. "To not provide it in a timely manner seems so inconsistent with all the good-government efforts of this administration."

Zack Stalberg, president of the government watchdog Committee of Seventy, says the document should be available before budget hearings.

"The public and the media that's trying to interpret this stuff have the right to see it in advance," he says. "There's a lot of things that can be hidden in a budget of that size."

Mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald says the budget detail will be publicly available by April 2, when hearings begin on city departments' finances. He also points out that two budget documents are already online — the city's five-year financial plan and its budget-in-brief. 

Neither is as substantial as the budget detail, however.

Council also doesn't currently have access to the budget detail, according to Jane Roh, spokeswoman for Council President Darrell Clarke. She expects Council to get it by Wednesday. Council is holding a budget hearing on the city's five-year plan today.

Balka wonders how Council members "can do their jobs" without the document.

So why won’t the Nutter administration unleash its budget detail already?

"The fact is the enormous document has not yet been sent to the printer," McDonald writes in an email.

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Every year, city government spends slightly more than $4 billion. Where does all that money come from? More importantly, where does it go? Are we getting the most bang for our tax buck? “It's Our Money” is a joint project between Philadelphia Daily News and WHYY, funded by the William Penn Foundation, designed to answer these questions.

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