Introducing: The It's Our Money Budget Hearing Cheat Sheets and Shadow Budget Process

Now that Mayor Nutter has made his budget proposal, City Council is set to begin holding hearings to debate the details. To help keep you up to speed, we'll be publishing "cheat sheets" with important facts and figures about the department being debated, and telling you how and when to share your thoughts with Council. After the hearings, we'll solicit your "testimony," and hopefully wrap it all up by giving you a chance to design your own city budget.

Council's first hearing, being held tomorrow, is on the city's Five-Year-Plan. Here's what you need to know. -DT



Time and Location: Wednesday, March 10th @ 10 am, City Council chambers (4th floor of City Hall). There’s no public testimony built into the schedule for this hearing.

What it is: Since the early 1990s, when Philadelphia was flirting with bankruptcy, the city has been required by the state to budget for five years. The Nutter Administration released its plan for FY10-FY15 (read it here) on the day of the budget address.

Why it matters: If City Council passes Nutter's budget, it will then have to be approved by the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (PICA), a public agency that acts as a control board for state bonds. Should PICA refuse to sign off on the budget, millions of dollars in loans will be withheld. Generally, city officials know that local government can't operate without those funds and will tailor the plan to get it passed by PICA.

What to expect at the hearing: The Five-Year-Plan is where the city does its long-term thinking, so expect City Council to ask a lot of questions about the overall strategy of Nutter's budget. What does he think the city will look like in five years? What good things are going to happen and what problems will get worse? Are there impending challenges we're not planning for? The Five-Year-Plan hearings are also a good opportunity to question the revenue assumptions in the budget.

What's in Nutter's plan? Nutter's budget assumes the economy will improve over the next five years, meaning more tax revenue will flow into the city. It also assumes that the three municipal unions -- which have been working under a contract extension since June 30th -- will agree to contracts with no raises and steep benefit cuts. The budget resumes wage and business tax cuts in the final year of the plan.

What happened last year: Last year, PICA didn't sign off on the Five-Year-Plan until Harrisburg approved the city's sales tax increase in September. In the meanwhile, the agency became something of a political ping-pong, as Mayor Nutter tried to use PICA deadlines to force action from the state legislature. After the increase passed, PICA approved the plan.