Nutter to unveil 'doomsday budget'

Posted: July 30, 2009

Fewer cops, dirty streets and nowhere for kids to play. That's what city officials say would happen under the "doomsday budget" looming over Philadelphia.

At a City Hall rally today, Mayor Nutter plans to stand up with lawmakers, business owners and community advocates and reveal details of the devastating cuts he will be forced to make if state lawmakers don't approve the city's budget requests.

The city needs state approval of a temporary 1 cent sales-tax increase and some changes on how the city pays into the pension fund - worth about $700 million over five years.

But the Harrisburg legislators, who are locked in a monthlong state budget impasse, have been slow to move on the requests.

After weeks of quietly lobbying in Harrisburg, Nutter will shift gears today, loudly calling on legislators in public - and using the doomsday budget as a political hammer.

According to multiple government sources, the potential cuts expected to be unveiled by Nutter are:

* Layoffs of 600 to 800 cops and no replacement of hundreds of other officers when they retire.

* Layoffs of 200 firefighters.

* Closing of two city health centers.

* Shuttering most recreation centers and libraries.

* Trash pickup every other week.

* A total of 3,000 layoffs across almost every city department.

Nutter, who spent the day in Harrisburg yesterday, is pushing for action on legislation that would grant the city's requests by Aug. 15.

"Any movement for us is progress," Nutter said.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Dwight Evans, a Philadelphia Democrat, called a vote yesterday on legislation granting the city to increase the sales tax and change its pension funding. The committee voted 19-13 along party lines to send the legislation for a full vote by the state House, which could approve the measure as soon as Tuesday.

Evans called the issues "of the utmost importance to the city," and said Philadelphia "should not be held hostage" throughout budget negotiations.

Asked whether he believes he can get needed Republican support to move the legislation apart from a negotiated budget settlement, Evans said, "I hope so."

State Sen. Shirley Kitchen, a Democrat who heads the city's delegation in that chamber of the General Assembly, was drafting legislation yesterday to mirror the measure put forth by Evans. That version was expected to be submitted soon to the Senate.

This is a new tact since original strategies were to negotiate support for Philadelphia tax and pension issues as part of a final budget settlement. But since those issues require no state funding, they can be pressed in the absence of a budget.

A final budget settlement isn't likely anytime soon, especially since Gov. Rendell is now calling for passage of a scaled-down "bridge" budget next week in order to pay state workers and vendors while negotiations on a final budget continue.

Even if the legislation on the pension and sales tax were passed, the city will still need a state-budget deal because without it, the government will not receive millions in reimbursements for social programs.

Today's event is Nutter's first major public shout to Harrisburg., and City Councilman Jim Kenney cautioned that it might be a risky move.

"I hope the strategy works. Because if it backfires, it could be worse then it is right now," Kenney said. "I know from the local delegation there is some private grumbling about how they're being lobbied. I don't think the court of public opinion matters as it relates to representatives and senators from outside the city."

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