Sunday, December 28, 2014

Time to reconsider police furloughs?

Yesterday, Mayor Nutter announced his plans to cut an additional $20 million from the city budget. The mayor says the cuts -- which include canceling a class of police recruits, deactivating two fire companies, and reducing libraries to a four-day per week schedule -- are necessary because City Council refused to pass his tax on sugary sweetened beverages.

Time to reconsider police furloughs?

Yesterday, Mayor Nutter announced his plans to cut an additional $20 million from the city budget. The mayor says the cuts -- which include canceling a class of police recruits, deactivating two fire companies, and reducing libraries to a four-day per week schedule -- are necessary because City Council refused to pass his tax on sugary sweetened beverages.

For our part, we wonder if it's time to revisit the idea of furloughing police officers. The city has had this option since December, when an arbitration panel awarded a new contract to 6,700 members of the Fraternal Order of Police. The contract allows the city to furlough union members for up to 30 days, as long as employees are given a week's notice.

Essentially, a furlough is a temporary layoff. Employees on furlough don't get paid, but keep their jobs when the furlough ends. If every eligible employee in the police department were furloughed for the maximum allowable number of days, the city estimates that it would save $42 million.

Think about that. That means that if the city furloughed every eligible employee for 15 days (or half for the maximum amount), we could avoid all the other budget cuts.

Of course, there are public safety implications for furloughing public safety workers. That needs to be balanced with the need to save money.

For instance, perhaps Nutter thinks furloughing officers would have a worse impact on the city than reducing library branch services to four days a week. But what about the cancellation of the two classes of police recruits? Which measure would have a greater impact on public safety?

Right now, the city doesn't have the power to furlough any union employees other than police officers (though that may change soon if furloughs are included in the firefighters' award, and Nutter will presumably push for the right to furlough other union workers in contract negotiations). Should it use its ability to furlough police officers to help close the budget gap?

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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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