Sunday, February 14, 2016

Contemplating the Mayor's Cuts

Ed Rendell jokes that when he was mayor and "the Eagles were in the playoffs, I could've raised the city wage tax and nobody would've cared."

Contemplating the Mayor's Cuts

Ed Rendell jokes that when he was mayor and "the Eagles were in the playoffs, I could've raised the city wage tax and nobody would've cared."

This week, with the city euphoric from the World Series, Mayor Nutter did not joke. Instead, faced with a $1 billion deficit in five years, he ruined many a resident's lunch.

Business and wage taxes will not be raised, but citizens will enjoy no cuts until 2015, which seems a long time from now, especially in this economy. The reductions were to have made the city fiscally competitive and to stimulate growth.

So, shortly after noon, Nov. 6, 2008, the honeymoon officially ended, a year after Nutter was elected.

The city will cut 820 full-time and 2,000 part-time positions, and chop 200 unfilled police vacancies. Police overtime will be slashed. Five engine and two ladder companies will be shuttered. Plus no more underwriting the Mummers' plumage.

The city will be less clean, kind, generous. Snow plowing will stop on small streets. Bulk trash collection will end. Eleven libraries will close, some in the poorest neighborhoods. Most city pools will be drained, along with three of five ice rinks.

Golden oldies

Pennsylvania, I've long observed, is more generous to its older citizens than to its young. The same can be said of Philadelphia. The city's budget is shackled by pension payouts, costly cement shoes that impede the administration from implementing progressive initiatives.

In 2006, the city had more pensioners than active employees - 33,907 versus 28,701 - with annual compensation ranging from $29,000 to $42,000, in addition to Social Security. Most employees contributed less than 2 percent, far less than employees do in other cities.

The disparity will increase with job cuts and an aging workforce, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts and Economy League of Philadelphia's report, "Philadelphia's Quiet Crisis: The Rising Cost of Employee Benefits." By 2012, pension and retiree health-care costs are projected to devour 28 percent of the city budget.

If radical measures aren't taken, one in every four tax dollars will support retired employees - the city's past - yet we won't provide pools for children or libraries in Mantua and Fishtown. Who knows? Maybe the casinos can go there.

The kindest cuts

On Saturday, at a benefit for the Free Library of all places, I asked Mayor Nutter if I could help trim the budget. He looked alarmed - perhaps because he has chosen to hold hearings in private, perhaps because he doesn't known how well I can shop a sale - but I was serious. My thoughts:

No city cars unless they're essential for work. Take SEPTA. Bike.

The mayor and top staff are taking pay cuts. Since Council takes the summer off, their paychecks should be suspended, too.

Reduce the size of Council, beginning with the seven members who are double-dipping - or is it dripping? - through DROP, the Deferred Retirement Option Program. Don't defer retirement. Retire now.

Frank Rizzo introduced a bill to limit nepotism. No. Eliminate it. Cronyism, too. Of course, this would end Rizzo's career. And that of a third of the city's workforce.

Oh, and Latrice Bryant. Particularly after Wilson Goode Jr.'s chief legislative aide wrote that the entire summer is "a period in which I was not even contractually required to work. But I did." Gone! That's $90,000 saved. Fox29 could hire her as a commentator.

The mayor proposes a private-sector task force to increase efficiency and work with the unions, while encouraging individuals and corporations to become involved. Great. See if smart, rich people can figure out new revenue streams before next year, which is essential. That's when all four union contracts expire - those workers collect 58 cents of every city dollar - and the fighting will begin anew.

Contact staff writer Karen Heller

at 215-854-2586 or

Inquirer Staff Writer
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About this blog
This week Karen Heller is live-blogging the Republican convention in true blogger style - at home, surfing the Web and watching TV. She's covered five other conventions. Three were Republican, two were Democratic. Read all of Populist here.

Karen Heller has interviewed Philip Roth and Zsa Zsa Gabor, spent time with Pink and the Philadelphia Orchestra, the celebrated and the exemplary unsung. She's covered Miss America and political conventions. She's been a provocative voice at The Inquirer for nearly 20 years, garnering awards for criticism, feature writing and investigative reporting, and was a finalist for the 2001 Pulitzer Prize in commentary. Reach Karen at

Karen Heller Inquirer Staff Writer
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