Archive: July, 2009
Yesterday, Mayor Michael Nutter released the most detailed information yet about possible service cuts if Harrisburg fails to approve his city budget requests. (Read Catherine Lucey's excellent Q&A) Nutter wants to increase the sales tax from 7 to 8 percent and reduce contributions to the city pension fund. If that doesn't happen, the city plans to layoff 3,000 city workers, including 972 from the Police Department and 196 positions in the Fire Department.
I have seen a number of comments on this blog and others accusing the mayor of resorting to scare tactics. Here is the rationale: Mayor Nutter is intentionally laying off cops and firefighters to get people upset and put pressure on the state legislature. He could easily cut other areas-- health centers, libraries, and recreation programs-- to make up the budget deficit.
There is just one problem with that logic: it's completely wrong. Spending on public safety-- police, fire, and prisons-- dwarfs every other part of city government. About 29% of the city's $4 billion budget goes to these costs. If the city is forced to cut $700 million from the budget, most of it will have to come from the areas where the money is. There simply isn't enough cash in the other departments to make up the budget deficit.
Let's get specific. A frequent target of criticism is City Council. Some have suggested if we eliminated DROP, cars, and a few others perks we'd be well on our way to solving the budget crunch. However, City Council has a relatively small budget of $17 million. In contrast, the Police Department has a annual budget of $524 million. We could completely eliminate City Council, the Free Library ($40M), Recreation ($38M), Fairmount Park ($15M), L&I ($27M) and still be far away from the total Police Department budget.
So, what about the threat of reducing trash pickup? The Streets Department is another of those parts of city government that costs a lot of money. The annual budget is about $142 million, with $100 million of that earmarked for sanitation. Why is it so expensive? Well, it's both labor and equipment intensive work. Some have suggested privatizing trash pickup instead of cuts. It's an intriguing idea, but there is no way the city could pull it off in such a short amount of time. Plus, the city doesn't have enough money to pay current vendors, so why would anyone want to bid for the contract?
The numbers released by Nutter are certainly scary, but it's not a political trick. The biggest cuts are in the Police and Fire Department because that's where the money is. There simply aren't any other options.
ATTENTION, Harrisburg: The time for political posturing is over.
Pennsylvania needs a responsible state budget, and we need it now. As the stalemate drags into its fourth week, it's time for the recalcitrant deadlocked Legislature to take the steps necessary to deal with the $3.2 billion deficit and secure the state's future.
Philadelphia's award is part of the $1 billion earmarked for the Community Oriented Police Services (COPS) Program within the $787 billion stimulus package. City officials said the money should help boost numbers on the police force, which hovers at about 6,600 officers.
"We're slightly under strength now because of attrition," said Ramsey. "What this grant does, it allows us to replace some."
First, let's start with the big news: California has a budget. Finally. The biggest state in the country and sixth largest economy in the world has been the scene of a major budget stalemate. The 2/3 requirement to raise taxes has been a major obstacle to making a deal. Lawmakers have cut about $15 billion from the annual spending plan.
Of course, California isn't the only state with budget problems. In Ohio, the state just adopted a spending plan that cut libraries, hunger programs, and education. Sound familiar?
Speaking of familiar, lobbyists in Arizona are pushing to expand gambling to allow full-fledged casinos at race tracks. Gaming proponents say the proposal could help fill the $3 billion budget deficit. Right now, gambling is only allowed at casinos run by Native-American tribes.
Philadelphia is negotiating new contracts with the four unions representing city workers. These agreements dictate wages, benefits, and working conditions for more than 20,000 employees. The contracts also represent big money-- costs associated with compensation represent about 60% of the total $4 billion municipal budget.
Right now, those agreements are negotiated behind closed doors. Sandy took issue with that in a blog post last week. We debated the issue in a video produced the Philly.com series Faceoff. Check it out below.
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware County, cautioned in a telephone interview Sunday afternoon that he saw no reason to believe a solution is around the corner.
"We're still very far apart, and we still have a lot of ground to cover before we come to an agreement," said Pileggi, who last spoke directly with Rendell late Saturday.
One of my grandfathers was a cop. (The other played the bagpipes, which, on reflection, is the musical equivalent of what I do as an editorial writer: making loud, annoying noise that nonetheless can sometimes be stirring.) And while a mutant family gene eventually produced more MBAs and Republicans than cops, an allegiance to the working man and labor issues is in my DNA.
That said, I’ve been wondering for the last few months why we are content to accept one of the basic tenets of labor negotiations : secrecy.
The city contracts currently being negotiated include municipal unions; police and fire contracts are left up to an arbitrator. All these jobs are paid with public money. So why isn’t the public more involved and informed about what’s at stake? Why do we accept the informational black out, and not question the culture of back room deals that usually characterize these things?
Salaries and benefits represent a stunning 60 percent of the city’s budget; that’s doesn’t even include the $450 million the city paid into the pension fund. At what point will every cent of our tax dollars go to paying the city workforce?
Instead of open discussions about what the issues are and what the options are, we have mystery theatre: labor gets onstage and paints itself as exploited victims and threatening strikes, and the city paints itself as a most generous and impoverished employer.
A record 53 percent of voters in a Quinnipiac University poll yesterday said they disapproved of the way Rendell is doing his job, compared with 39 percent who approved.
And, those voters added, they think the governor is "the most responsible" for the budget quagmire between his administration and Republicans in the legislature.