Nutter budget faces hurdles in Harrisburg

Mayor Nutter and Governor Rendell

For if Philadelphia is to avoid what Nutter calls "pretty much" Armageddon, the mayor must convince often Philly-phobic lawmakers to approve hiking the city's sales tax and changing its pension payouts.

These moves are only part of Nutter's response to an estimated $2 billion-plus budget deficit over the next five years. He also seeks to raise property taxes, suspend wage-tax and business-tax cuts, stop pay raises for city workers and more. (He already took a salary cut, from $186,044 to $161,026; other elected officials should follow his lead.)

If the Legislature says OK, the city stands to get an estimated $342 million over three years by upping the sales tax from 7 percent to 8 percent, and save $331 million over five years by extending city pension payouts from 20 to 40 years.

That's a $673 million ticket. Question is: Can Nutter get it punched?

The Legislature's always suspicious and often ambivalent when it comes to the city. It's politically split: Democrats control the House, Republicans the Senate. It faces its own $2 billion-plus deficit this year. And it runs on the fuel of partisan politics.

Plus, for the first time in decades, there's no Vince Fumo to muscle city issues through the thicket of the legislative landscape.

And if Nutter fails, he says, the city loses 480 cops, 130 firefighters and paramedics, shuts down health centers, rec centers, libraries and more.

"Our situation is such that I have to do all that I can," says Nutter. "We have, I think, improved the relationship between the city and the General Assembly [and] we're not asking for money, we're asking to self-fund our own financial challenge . . . We're going to spend a lot of time with the Legislature and the governor."

He'll have to.

On paper, the pension thing looks easy, and who outside Philly cares about Philly's sales tax? But as veteran Philly Rep. Dwight Evans, a key budget player as head of the House Appropriations Committee, says: "Never is anything a no-brainer in Harrisburg."