Nutter rallies Philly legislators to push budget plan that could save thousands of jobs

Posted: July 28, 2009

Mayor Nutter's message to Harrisburg yesterday? A giant SOS.

As the state budget impasse dragged into its fourth week, Nutter and City Council leaders met with members of Philadelphia's delegation in Harrisburg, seeking support for budget plans to raise the sales tax temporarily and to make changes to how the city pays into the pension fund.

During the closed-door meeting at the Park Hyatt at the Bellevue with about 20 legislators, Nutter said that without those items - which add up to $700 million in savings and revenue over five years - the city will be forced to make drastic cuts like firing police officers and reducing trash collection.

After the meeting, Nutter declared victory, saying the delegation was united behind him. State Rep. Dwight Evans, a Democrat from West Oak Lane, said he planned to bring the state House legislation, which includes both items, up for a committee vote on Wednesday.

"I believe the momentum is there," Evans said. "I believe the mayor has done a very good job of educating people on why this is necessary."

State Sen. Shirley Kitchen, a Democrat who represents parts of North and Northeast Philadelphia, said she would introduce corresponding legislation in the state Senate as soon as possible.

But state Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, a Delaware County Republican, said that although getting Philly legislators to unite on the matter is important, this was far from a done deal.

"I think that their support is necessary to even get to the point that we would consider the relief that the city is requesting," Pileggi said. "I don't know if their support will be sufficient to bring the majority of the Senate on board."

With the state locked in a budget impasse for almost a month, the city has stopped paying most bills to reserve cash until the state budget is resolved.

Nutter yesterday put some heat on the lawmakers, asking them to support his plans to temporarily raise the city sales tax - now 7 cents on the dollar, with 6 going to the state and 1 to the city - by 1 cent. He also asked them to approve a two-year delay in some city payments into the pension fund and the stretching out of pension obligations over 30 years instead of 20.

State Rep. Tony Payton, D-Phila., said Nutter told them that without the approvals, more than 3,000 jobs could be slashed, including police and firefighters, trash collection would go monthly, and recreation and libraries would see massive cuts.

"Basically, Philadelphia would be a dirty place where kids can't play," Payton said.

When reporters pushed Nutter for more specifics after the meeting, he avoided providing figures on how many police officers or firefighters would lose their jobs.

The Daily News has made several requests to view the backup plan. So far the administration has not made details available. Zack Stalberg, chief executive officer of the good-government group Committee of Seventy, said it's time for Nutter to show the public the details of his plan.

"As someone who ran as the transparency guy, I think he has an obligation to provide this detail," Stalberg said. "As someone who wants to raise taxes, I think it would be the right thing to do to let people know what the alternatives are."

Some Philly delegation members weren't very supportive.

State Rep. Mike O'Brien, a Democrat who represents parts of Fishtown, Kensington and Northern Liberties, stormed out minutes after the meeting started, saying he wasn't going to be "lectured" on the city's finances.

O'Brien said he has asked the city's lobbyists and the administration why they won't consider diverting the $87 million the city's expected to receive in state gaming taxes this year toward the budget problems.

The city's share of state gaming revenue is earmarked for wage-tax relief. Under state gaming law, the city could raise wage tax if tax collections have dropped by more than 2 percent. In May, city Finance Director Rob Dubow said that revenues had dropped by 1.94 percent, just shy of the necessary amount. *

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