Plan C is a bluff. There, I said it.
More and more, I find myself thinking that Nutter doesn't actually believe doomsday is almost upon us – with the city minutes away from closing libraries, recreation centers and the judicial system. He is just playing an elaborate game of charades. Yesterday, when he said at a meeting that many of the police officers who would get laid off were patrol officers – typically they’re assigned to high crime neighborhoods, it made me wonder if this scare-mongering is going a little far.
Don't get me wrong. The city definitely needs help from Harrisburg. If Philadelphia doesn't get permission to increase our sales tax and defer pension payments, we'll need more revenue or government won't be able to function properly. Still, the details of Plan C seem less like a plan and more like a (rather clumsy) political ruse to put pressure on state lawmakers.
After all, some of the claims being made by Nutter and his staff just don't make sense. Funding for the First Judicial District would be completely eliminated for four years. What the heck would happen to people arrested by the police? How would they be processed? When pressed, officials don't have any real answers to these questions. That reveals a lack of planning for a scenario that is supposed to be imminent.
The plan also seems to be just about cuts without any alternatives for raising revenue. For example, trash pick up would be reduced to every other week. This could be avoided by instituting a sanitation fee. This would take some time to set up, but unlike taxes, fees can be put in place during the middle of the year. Charging for this service could generate between $80 and $100 million in revenue. It might not be a popular move, but it would be enough to avoid turning our entire city into a dumpster.
Here is another question: Why is Nutter assuming that the city won't have any new streams of revenue for five years? City Council may have rejected a property-tax increase this year, but they might be singing a different tune after living through a year without libraries or recreation centers. If Harrisburg does fail to approve the enabling legislation, certainly other measures can be taken for the next fiscal year. The city could take some tide-me-over measures, rather than the permeant, scary-sounding ones in Plan C.
I'm not the only one who sees flaws. Today, City Controller Alan Butkovitz released a letter questioning the viability of Plan C. In addition to pointing out the absurdity of shutting down the court system, he also questions some of the basic assumptions in the plan. For example, the revised budget does not include the savings in fringe benefits generated by laying off 3,000 employees. That just doesn't make sense. You can read the entire Butkovitz letter over at Philly Clout.
So, if Plan C is a farce, does that mean we have nothing to worry about? Hardly. The city really does need new sources of revenue to preserve essential services. And, if Harrisburg doesn't approve the necessary legislation, Mayor Nutter will be forced to implement the plan he has been warning about for months or look completely foolish. In some ways, the worst thing about Plan C is that it's not actually a plan. That means the city is totally unprepared if Harrisburg fails to approve fiscal relief. And that should scare Philadelphians most of all.