Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What can Philadelphia expect from a Republican Harrisburg?

An IOM editorial in the Daily News explores the potential impact of a Republican takeover of Harrisburg for Philadelphia:

What can Philadelphia expect from a Republican Harrisburg?


An IOM editorial in the Daily News explores the potential impact of a Republican takeover of Harrisburg for Philadelphia:

First, the good news. Unlike voters in Bulter, Allegheny and Greene counties, Philadelphia voters said that an indictment was an impediment to getting re-elected, and booted John Perzel out of office. (Sen. Jane Orie and Rep. Bill DeWeese, also under indictment in the Bonusgate scandal, were re-elected.)

Beyond that, Tuesday's election results - which elected a Republican governor, and tipped Pennsylvania to a Republican majority in the House and Senate - hold few silver linings for Philadelphia.

How bad could it be for the city?

Governor-elect Tom Corbett says he'll impose no new taxes to balance what will be a massive state budget deficit. That means one thing: big cuts to spending.

Local governments like Philadelphia's rely on state funds for everything from human services, public health, economic development, and dozens of other areas.

The city projects the state to provide $610 million in revenue in 2010 and $595 million in 2011. According to the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (PICA), the city's revenues from other governments will account for 20.4 percent of the city's general fund this fiscal year. The key areas where cuts will be most likely be felt:

Social services: The biggest recipient of state aid is the Department of Human Services, which is charged with protecting Philadelphia children from abuse and neglect. A lion's share of the agency's $564.4 million budget comes from the state. Public health is another area where state funding is critical, and cuts could come to programs like behavioral health and prevention programs. One consequence: swelling prison populations.

Education: The state received $240 million in Title 1 education stimulus dollars; a third of that came to Philadelphia. With that stimulus money at an end, schools across the state must deal with the reductions in local share spending that the state made when the stimulus money arrived. The state's schools face budget tsunamis just to adjust from post-stimulus reality, even before new cuts are considered. The danger: increased spending made a positive difference in Philadelphia's test scores. If higher spending does mean better schools, it's not hard to figure out what lower spending means.

Transportation: SEPTA got about 40 percent of its capital dollars from the state this fiscal year ($124.1 million out of a total $303.7 million); a good chunk of that money came from bonds issued when the state was still planning to toll Interstate 80. With that plan dead, no more bonds will be issued, and SEPTA's capital funding falls off a cliff.

Among all these concrete concerns, there's one that's purely political. We're losing a homeboy as governor, but concerns about a new world order go beyond this city. While Ed Rendell did watch our back, more importantly, he had an understanding of how critical the state's big cities are in driving the economy. Southeastern Pennsylvania, for example, accounts for 40 percent of the state's economy. We don't know if Corbett has the same grasp. For example, agriculture was among the key issues identified on his campaign website. The state's cities were not.

Pushing the city's importance will be among the big challenges for the city's leaders. The myth of Philadelphia as a place of big problems, with its hand always outstretched for money, is no longer the reality, but in some quarters, it's still a firmly entrenched myth. Overcoming that may be as big a challenge as overcoming budget cuts.

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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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