John Baer: Nutter gets a capital N-O at the Capitol

Posted: June 08, 2011

MAYBE the mayor shoulda saved the gas and the hits on his E-ZPass.

His up-the-turnpike trek to the Capitol for help from lawmakers yesterday was more ritualistic than realistic.

Not his fault. Asking for more state aid these days is like asking Noah for a ride after the ark door closes.

(And about as popular as the mayor saying no new taxes back in March, then calling for taxes in June.)

Like other states awash in deficits, Pennsylvania's fighting to spend less. And when it comes to Philly schools, the drama (and fat salary) of Queen Arlene and the general view of the city system make seeking more even tougher.

Mayor Nutter's hope for extra scratch must be tempered by two realities: the fiscal reality that Gov. Corbett and Republicans pledge a lean, no-tax budget before July 1; and the political reality that they have the votes to deliver.

"The budget has been decided," says Philly Democratic Rep. Dwight Evans.

He argues that when the House last month passed a plan with the guv's magic number of $27.3 billion, chances for additional money pretty much dried up.

Never mind a swelling revenue surplus of $540 million expected to top $600 million by month's end.

Never mind millions more that could be gotten by taxing Marcellus Shale.

While the Senate could still do something with either issue, the betting is it shifts some money around but does not restore the biggest cuts to education or raise Corbett's $27.3 billion ceiling higher.

Nonetheless, the mayor did a round of meetings, though, tellingly, not with any Senate GOP leader. He did meet for about 10 minutes with House GOP Leader Mike Turzai, of Pittsburgh, but the budget is in the Senate.

Before leaving the Capitol, the mayor said he's pushing for some restoration of school cuts, especially $57 million for charter schools.

He deflected questions about Superintendent Ackerman or potential changes in who runs the district, saying that he's focused on issues of the moment.

"There will always be time to debate governance . . . and who's the superintendent," Nutter said.

Clearly, there's little confidence in Ackerman, even within the city delegation, and that could affect funding.

GOP Rep. John Taylor says the best hope for schools is a change in leadership: "We are ripe for a brand-new discussion for governance of the district . . . nobody's in charge, nobody's accountable."

He says he'd support an elected school board or mayoral control, or some combination of the two.

GOP Rep. Denny O'Brien tells me that getting more for schools is tough: "I don't trust anything that Ackerman does."

And the House yesterday debated but voted down an amendment by Philly Democrat Mike McGeehan to allow the Legislature to fire Ackerman.

Still, Sen. Vince Hughes, Senate Appropriations Committee minority chairman, the city's highest-ranking legislative Democrat, says that Philly schools are hit harder than other districts - due to usually getting more for charters, tutoring and block grants - and argues that surplus funds should be used to restore some cuts.

"We're not saying use all of it but, damn, when you have the money . . . " he says, his voice trailing off.

Current state funding for city charters, block grants and tutoring totals $183.5 million. That was zeroed out of Corbett's budget. The House restored about $21 million in block grants.

The numbers are numbing, the realities icy. And maybe Nutter shoulda saved the gas.

Send email to baerj@phillynews. com. For recent columns, go to

www.philly.com/JohnBaer. Read Baer's blog at www.philly.com/ BaerGrowls.

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