Archive: August, 2009
Mayor Michael Nutter just held a press conference where he praised the State Senate for passing a bill to provide fiscal relief to the city. He also called on the State House to reconvene and act swiftly on the amended legislation.
“We at the city are pleased and proud of the overwhelming support that House Bill 1848 just received,” said Nutter. “This measure is critically important to the financial and operational future to the City of Philadelphia. I've very appreciative of the Senate's action this afternoon.”
Nutter also went out of his way to praise the Republican leadership. “There was a schedule put out by Sen. Pileggi a couple of weeks ago,” said Nutter. “That schedule was maintained to the day.” He also dubbed the senators from the Philadelphia delegation “the new magnificent seven” for their role in pushing the bill forward.
Today, Philadelphia took another step away from fiscal Armageddon. The Pennsylvania Senate just voted to approve House Bill 1828, which provides $700 million dollars in fiscal relief for the city budget. The proposal, which was substantially amended, passed with a bipartisan vote of 38 to 9.
Sen. Larry Farnese, a Philadelphia Democrat who proposed language to ban future elected officials from participateing in DROP, praised the passage of the legislation. “The mayor has made it very clear that the doomsday budget is looming out there,” said Farnese. “We can't afford to have cops laid off. The bill had amendments, but at the end of the day, Philadelphia needs help immediately. This is the way to do it.”
Even critics of the bill found reasons to vote in favor. “I voted no in appropriations committee because of concerns of the Fraternal Order of Police,” said Sen. John Rafferty. “However, I will be voting in affirmative for the bill because of the importance to the city of Pittsburgh and the city of Philadelphia.”
Ben Waxman sat down with Gov. Rendell for an exclusive interview about the state budget and the bill that would help solve Philadelphia's financial problems. You can watch highlights below, or click here for the whole interview.
As we reported a few minutes ago, Mayor Nutter is throwing his support behind the amended budget bill. He just held an impromptu press conference to confirm that he still wants the legislation to pass, despite the major changes to the city's pension system.
“This Senate bill, that represents $700 million in relief for the City of Philadelphia, is critical to our future,"said Nutter. "If there are amendments attached to it, and there have been, that I neither asked for or advocated for, but if that is part of the process here, my focus and my goal is making sure we get our financial relief. ”
The changes to the bill include steep penalties if Philadelphia fails to pay back delayed pension contributions, freezes benefits for current city workers, and reduces benefits for future hires. It will also eliminate the controversial DROP program for elected officials. These amendments were added by the Senate Finance Committee and then altered again by the Senate last night.
Up to this point, Mayor Nutter has repeatedly said that he didn't want any amendments to the bill. The changes mean that the State House will have to reconsider the legislation and pass the amendments. Nutter confirmed that he expressed his support of the amended bill to Democrats in the State House.
“I have had a couple of conversations with the House Leadership,” said Nutter. “House Leadership is well aware of where we are in this process and we're hopeful that the House will come back as quickly as possible.
If passed, the pension amendments will have major implications for contact negotiations with city unions. Already, the leaders of the white-collar and firefighter unions have voiced their opposition to the bill.
Sen. Dominic Pileggi just told a group of reporters that Mayor Nutter supports the pension amendments made to the legislation to help balance the city budget. The original bill has been modified to include sweeping changes to the pension plan for municipal employees, including a freeze on current benefits and a reduction for future hires.
“Mayor Nutter has been in the building all day and has been working with us in crafting the amendment and moving the bill,” said Pileggi. “It is my understanding that he is supportive of the bill with the amendment we just adopted. We expect to have a letter from Mayor Nutter supporting these changes before a final vote.”
The bill was originally written to allow the city to delay contributions to the pension fund. That version passed the State House more than two weeks ago. The new amendments require significant reforms, including benefit cuts and eliminating the controversial DROP program for elected officials. Since the bill has been amended, if it passes the State Senate, it will need to be reconsidered by the State House.
Thus far, Mayor Nutter has been quiet about the amendments. We're still awaiting a formal statement from Mayor Nutter and a copy of the letter.
Pileggi also confirmed that the full State Senate would consider the proposal today and could suspend the rules to make it happen before the normal six hour delay. “Some members are considering [suspending the rules]. One way or another we will vote on the amended bill today.”
According to Johanna Pro, a spokesperson for State Representative Dwight Evans, it's highly unlikely that the State House will reconsider the legislation Philadelphia needs to balance the city budget by the end of the day. Even if the State Senate approves the bill, Pro said the amendments to pension portion could significantly delay passage.
“This is not an easy process,” said Pro. “We had [the bill] written and ready to go with everyone on board. Once it went to the Senate, it blew up. Depending on what the Senate does today, you've got other municipalities involved and it gets more complicated.”
She went on to say that House leaders will have to carefully consider the changes to the bill before voting. “We won't have any opinion on it until it gets over here and our analysts pull it apart to see what [the pension amendments] will actually do,” said Pro.
Both Mayor Nutter and Gov. Ed Rendell have stated that action by both chambers was possible by the end of the day. However, it now looks like that will not happen due to the pension amendments to the bill.
On Monday, the Senate Finance Committee amended legislation to help Philadelphia balance budget to include sweeping changes to the city pension fund. If passed, the bill will require a freeze in benefits for city employees and cuts for all future workers. The legislation also includes provisions for the state to take over distressed municipal pension funds.
For more breaking news from Harrisburg, be sure to check out the "It's Our Money" Twitter feed at www.twitter.com/ourmoneyphilly.
Wednesday could be the beginning of the end of Philadelphia fiscal crisis. The state senate is poised to vote on two proposals that would help balance the city budget. If the legislation passes, it could conceivably be approved by the State House and signed by Gov. Rendell on the same day.
Throughout the day, “It's Our Money” and Philly.com will bring you live coverage of what is happening throughout the state capitol. We'll have video interviews with the key players, including Gov. Ed Rendell and State Senator Dominic Pileggi. Also, be sure to check out our Twiter feed at www.twitter.com/ourmoneyphilly.
Will the State Senate pass Nutter's budget proposals? Will the State House approve the bill with the amendments? Check back frequently for updates.
City Council President Anna Verna may have waived the right to approve Mayor Nutter's doomsday budget, but the move does not have unanimous support. Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell protested the decision, saying that City Council should not give up the right to review the plan. In a letter obtained by “It's Our Money”, Blackwell argued that Council would “appear to be complicit in a Plan that would do severe damage to the city and its citizens.”
“I believe it is the responsibility of City Council to carefully consider and vote on matters referred to it under the law” Blackwell wrote to Verna. “Council should never avoid this responsibility, but embrace it as it strikes at the heart of government in this country and how it was created with three branches of government, i.e. executive, legislative, and judicial.”
Blackwell was the only one to publicly criticize the action, but several other members of City Council expressed concerns privately. As a result, the letter to Mayor Nutter waiving Council's right to approve the plan was only signed by Council President Verna and did not include the entire Council.
According to Verna's spokesman Anthony Radwanski, the decision to waive the right to approve the plan was based on time. The Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority has set a deadline of August 31st to start implementing the doomsday plan if the state fails to approve enabling legislation to help balance the Philadelphia budget. The full State Senate could take action on the proposals as soon as tomorrow.