With layoff-clock ticking, Nutter pleads for tax action by state

Mayor Nutter, accompanied by Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey (center) and Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers (at right of Ramsey), holds a news conference yesterday in front of the 2nd and 15th police districts at Levick Stret and Harbison Avenue.
Mayor Nutter, accompanied by Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey (center) and Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers (at right of Ramsey), holds a news conference yesterday in front of the 2nd and 15th police districts at Levick Stret and Harbison Avenue.
Posted: August 04, 2009

WITH TIME RAPIDLY running out before the city is forced to implement a "doomsday budget," Mayor Nutter appeared yesterday in Northeast Philadelphia to beg state lawmakers for budget support.

But Nutter's plea - that lawmakers authorize Philadelphia to temporarily increase the city sales tax by a penny on the dollar and change how the city replenishes its pension fund - may be falling on deaf ears.

Dominic Pileggi, the leader of the state Senate Republicans from Delaware County, yesterday said that he expects to take action on the Philly requests after the state budget is resolved. And the state budget - deadlocked for more than a month - may not be finished for weeks.

By mid-August, Philadelphia will have started the process for laying off 3,000 employees, including hundreds of cops and firefighters.

Nutter was careful not to criticize state legislators yesterday, but said he hopes the state will carefully consider Philadelphia's position.

"I understand the financial challenges the commonwealth faces," Nutter said. "But Philadelphia is facing some dire consequences, more so than the commonwealth on a day-to-day basis."

The items Nutter wants from Harrisburg are worth $700 million over five years. Legislation has been introduced in the state House of Representatives and state Senate on the pension and sales-tax requests. The House bill could be voted on today.

But Pileggi doesn't want to deal with that legislation until after the state budget is finalized. A budget settlement isn't likely anytime soon, especially since the lawmakers are close to approving a scaled-down "bridge" budget in order to pay state workers and vendors while negotiations on a final budget continue.

After several months of quietly lobbying the governor and legislators in Harrisburg about why Philadelphia needs the authorization, Nutter last week made his demands - and the consequences - more public, holding a rally at City Hall.

Nutter said that if the state doesn't come through, he'll be forced to make devastating cuts, including eliminating 972 positions in the Police Department and 196 in the Fire Department, as well as stopping operations at the Recreation Department, the Free Library and Fairmount Park.

Flanked by Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers, Nutter repeated those numbers yesterday at the 2nd and the 15th district police station on Levick Street near Harbison Avenue.

"I think it's just important that we get the information out that everyone knows the dire consequences of not getting legislative approval in Harrisburg," Nutter said after the press conference, noting that 63 percent of Police and Fire Department personnel live in the Northeast.

Some of the state lawmakers representing the Northeast have questioned Nutter's budget plan, notably state Rep. Brendan Boyle and state Rep. Mike O'Brien.

Boyle yesterday tried to forge a compromise with the administration on the sales-tax issue. He proposed an amendment to the legislation on the sales tax that would exempt items that cost more than $1,000 from the 1-cent tax increase.

"My amendment attempts to bridge the gap; it attempts to get the city the revenue," Boyle said. "This is really based on what would be best public policy."

Boyle put forth another amendment that would require the city to guarantee that it would maintain staffing levels in the Police and Fire departments.

Nutter spokesman Doug Oliver called Boyle's proposal "unconstitutional" and said that it "simply doesn't get us to where we need to be."

"It would shortchange the city and would require significant cuts that threaten health and public safety, among other things," he said.

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