Friday, February 12, 2016

Editorial: We want the bad news, too

Link: We want the bad news, too [Daily News]

Editorial: We want the bad news, too


Link: We want the bad news, too [Daily News]

YESTERDAY, Mayor Nutter delivered his proposed budget to the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (PICA), a state agency charged with overseeing city finances.

There's nothing unusual in this: By law, the mayor is required to submit his budget and five-year plan to PICA, and PICA must approve it.

But this time around, there was a bit of theater in the presentation (story Page 23), since the budget submitted assumes a best-case scenario - that Harrisburg approves the city's proposal to close the budget gap by hiking the sales tax by 1 percentage point.

That's still a big "if" and if that measure fails, the city budget reverts to "Plan B" - a version that includes draconian cuts to services and thousands of city layoffs, including to the police and fire departments.

The Nutter administration has been talking about Plan B for months. But no one outside the inner circle has seen the details of the plan; the administration has only hinted at how ugly it could get.

It's too bad PICA ruled that the city didn't need to submit that version, too. Given the very real possibility that the sales-tax proposal could die in Harrisburg, the mayor has a responsibility to all citizens-especially those who might be directly impacted by the Plan B cuts, like city workers - to let us know how bad it could get. These plans should be made public for the sake of transparency. The mayor promised a new era of accountability and openness. The Nutter administration did release some potential scenarios during the public engagement part of the budget process, including 30 percent departmental cuts. But those plans lacked specifics. We need to know which facilities are slated for closure, how services would be impacted, and what the plan is for keeping the city running smoothly.

Hasn't the mayor learned anything from this fiscal year's budget process, which started out with public outcry over his announcement of library cuts and led to a new era of public conversation?

Besides, Nutter could use the plan to help win the day; if the public learns the gory possibilities, they could be mobilized to put pressure on state lawmakers. That kind of public outcry might help move Harrisburg to do the right thing.

It's time for the Nutter administration to treat Philadelphians like grown-ups and show us the worst-case scenario. It won't be pretty, but this secretive approach to the future isn't, either.

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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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