DN Editorial: Nutter's budget limbo

MAYOR NUTTER is playing a bit of a game of limbo with the city budget he delivers to Council today.

The approximately $4 billion budget he presents is the first in three years that is expected to show growth and new spending, rather than cuts. It's a document that shows a city finally turning around from a devastating economic meltdown that shrunk city revenues, led to tax hikes for residents, as well as to chilling statements like "$1 billion in losses over the next five years."

The limbo part is that his budget is likely to change rapidly and dramatically, once Gov. Corbett presents the state budget on Tuesday. That budget is expected to swing a large ax on parts of the city budget. The cuts will probably fall primarily on social services and schools, and the city will definitely feel the hit. (see Page 15 for more.)

Since the state budget is likely to force a major revision of Nutter's budget, should the mayor have waited for Corbett before presenting his rosier view of reality?

We say no, for a number of reasons. The budget is not just a list of revenues and expenses; it's a statement of policy and vision, and Nutter deserves to put his name on a budget that reflects the administration's goals for the future. Even if this budget is a still-developing snapshot of where he wants the city to go, city taxpayers deserve to see what the picture looks like right now.

This budget illustrates where his priorities are - and they include adding a new class of recruits at the Police Academy, adding money for literacy and making cuts to the prison system.

The problem with waiting is that the state budget will be a statement of Corbett's priorities, and his are clearly not the same as the city's. In fact, Corbett's budget is also going to be affected by federal cuts, which are still unclear. But just as it would be unwise for Corbett to delay the state budget by waiting for the federal budget -which, given the turmoil in Congress, could take a very long time - Nutter is right to begin the three-month budgeting process now.

After being pummeled by economic forces and navigating the dismal terrain of a downturn for the past few years, Nutter deserves this brief moment of budget limbo. Still, he should be prepared to answer how his administration will handle the very real problems of deep state cuts once Corbett does start swinging the ax. It's not going to be pretty - but at least it's not going to be unfamiliar. *