Editorial: The 7.5% solution

YESTERDAY, Mayor Nutter's chief of staff, Clay Armbrister, appeared before City Council to defend the administration's budget.

According to Armbrister, the city needs a trash fee and a tax on sugary drinks - called the Clean Philly Fee and the Healthy Philadelphia Initiative, respectively - because we cannot afford any more cuts without severely impacting services.

Armbrister said he had asked city departments to prepare scenarios for decreasing their budgets by 7.5 percent. He later said that departments also prepared budgets with a 5 percent cut and a 2.5 percent cut.

When reviewing the impact, the administration decided it would be too devastating and came up with the trash and soda revenue.

How bad were these cuts? Hard to know, since the administration hasn't released them to Council or the public. (The administration promised Councilman Bill Green, who requested details, to provide them soon.)

We echo the call for these details. The city faces another tough budget cycle to close big gaps in revenue caused by the still-struggling economy, and the actions the city takes will undoubtedly be more noticeable than the steps it took last time - primarily raising the sales tax by a percentage point.

The proposed sugared-soda tax and the trash fee have generated heated debate around the city. That debate should be informed by the realistic alternatives, including cutting the budget more dramatically than has been proposed so far.

Last year, the administration detailed two cutting scenarios: a Plan B that included layoffs of 480 cops, reduction of trash services to three times a month, a reduced schedule for all libraries and recreation centers, on top of a boost in the property tax.

A more dire Plan C would have cut even more dramatically. These scenarios were mostly used as leverage to get Harrisburg to pass the sales-tax hike. But this year is different, for many reasons. Faced with closing another gap, with few money-raising options available, all possibilities should be on the table - even service cuts.

The mayor has made it clear that we're still in tough times. He should make it equally clear what the alternatives to a new tax and fees are, and exactly what the cutting scenario would look like. Faced with a choice, maybe the cuts aren't so untenable after all.

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