Since early in his first term, Rendell has spoken glowingly and often about the bonanza that awaits the city with the coming of riverboats docked near Penn's Landing.
Administration officials had projected an infusion of new jobs and a city take of at least $35 million a year - winnings the administration could devote to neighborhood revitalization and tax cuts.
But casinos can't open without the state's permission, and the issue has been going nowhere in Harrisburg. Gov. Ridge has insisted that the question be put to a statewide referendum - a vote that has never come close to being put on the ballot.
In the face of those political realities, Rendell has come under increasing criticism for continuing optimistically to include gambling revenues in forecasts of future city budgets.
Joseph Vignola, head of the state oversight board on city finances, wrote Rendell in November to warn that it would be ``highly imprudent'' and ``unfair to the next mayor'' to bank on gaming money.
Vignola's board, the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (PICA), is charged with making sure that Philadelphia's finances are based on sound projections, not the shaky assumptions of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Each year, city officials must present PICA with a long-range financial plan showing how the municipal government intends to stay in the black for the following five years.
In his budget address today, Rendell is expected to offer a $2.6 billion budget, up only $100 million from the current fiscal year, which will end June 30.
Rost said that spending would hold steady for most city departments and that no layoffs or tax increases were envisioned. The budget will allow ``service enhancements in key areas,'' including police, fire, Fairmount Park, health centers and other areas in which the city government interacts with the public, he added.
Ben Hayllar, city finance director, forecast that revenues would be flat in 1998-99, although officials said the city's economic picture last year was the brightest of the decade. Rost said city employment grew by about 3,000 jobs in 1997, compared with 100 jobs the previous year - the first substantial gains since 1988.
The senior aides hinted at a change in Rendell's timetable for rolling back the city wage tax, but would provide no elaboration other than for Rost to say, ``We're not going backward and we're not standing still.'' They said the mayor would spell out details today.
Rendell has long touted riverboat gambling as a needed shot of adrenaline for the city's economy. He envisioned licensing five or six casinos, each paying onetime franchise fees of $50 million. He also projected the games would net at least $35 million in annual taxes, plus $6 million in wage taxes from employees.
Whatever the moral objections to gambling, Rendell said last year, ``show me another industry that can come here and bring 5,000 to 8,000 new jobs paying $20,000 a year with health benefits.''
Predictions of a gambling windfall first appeared in the five-year plan released in January 1995.