Phila. GOP opposes $94.7M bond issue on ballot Tuesday
There's something unusual about the bond question on Tuesday's Philadelphia ballot: The Republican Party wants voters to say no.
A party that has rarely taken a stance on political issues in the city in recent years is opposing the $94.7 million bond issue.
The GOP's argument, as laid out in a news release last month and amplified Friday in an Inquirer op-ed essay by ward leader J. Matthew Wolfe, is that voters are being kept in the dark about the details.
The bond question, similar to dozens that voters have approved routinely in recent decades, asks if the city should borrow $94.7 million "to be spent for and toward capital purposes as follows: Transit; Streets and Sanitation; Municipal Buildings; Parks, Recreation and Museums; and Economic and Community Development."
"If City Hall wants voters to approve more debt for buildings and infrastructure, they need to disclose to the voters what those projects are, so we can make an informed decision," said party executive director Joe DeFelice.
The Democrats running City Hall say the GOP is mistaken on key facts about the city's capital budget and spending process.
The projects the bonds would finance are spelled out in the capital budget for 2013-14, which Council approved in June after detailed testimony from Gary J. Jastrzab, executive director of the City Planning Commission.
Among the big-ticket items, Jastrzab testified, are $19.8 million for grading, paving, and other highway and street work; $17.9 million to improve pools, parks, and other recreation facilities; $14 million to upgrade the city's computer system; $10.1 million (from city and non-city sources) for improvements along the Delaware River and Schuylkill waterfronts; and $9.8 million to renovate and repair police facilities around the city.
"All these projects depend on approval of the bond question next week," Mayor Nutter's finance director, Rob Dubow, said Friday. "We can only spend capital dollars on items approved by the voters."
Wolfe, a lawyer who is Republican leader of the 27th Ward in University City, complained that the details hadn't turned up in his Internet searches.
He raised additional questions about Council's ability to change capital budget outlays after voter approval, and expressed concern that the city might be borrowing long-term through that budget to pay for short-term operating costs that instead should come out of the city's general fund.
Dubow noted that any capital budget changes need Council action, including a public hearing.
Before signing off on the capital budget, Dubow said, the City Controller's Office requires officials to explain why some expenditures belong there instead of in the operating budget.
"They don't rubber-stamp," he said. "Sometimes they require more information from us, and there are times when they say something's not capital, and we take it out."