With that looming, the city complied, and this week PICA approved the plan. While the threat of nuclear annihilation can be a strong incentive, we wonder if, two decades after the establishment of PICA by the state, there may be other more moderated levels for PICA to use to keep the city's budget on track.
The nuclear option does far more harm than potential good, yet without it PICA would just rubber-stamp budgets, which is no help. There is no doubt the city has benefited from the enforced discipline of five-year planning.
PICA's role isn't simple. It should approve the soundness of the budget numbers, but not how the city can spend its money; that's the job for elected officials. (That's why we agree with PICA chair Sam Katz's insistence that the unresolved union contracts are a big issue for next year's budget, though we question his using this as a threat, since contracts are specific spending policy.)
Any modifications to PICA's authority would have to come from the state. This might be a good time for the state to consider reviewing other ways PICA can maintain its authority without having to resort to deadly force. According to the original statute, PICA will exist for another 10 years. It's fair to say that current economic and political pressures mean municipal finance has gotten far more complicated in this decade than the past - and not just for Philadelphia.
In fact, Pennsylvania has 21 cities and towns that are financially distressed enough to fall under Act 47, a state law designed to help troubled cities with fiscal planning and oversight. Anywhere from two to 10 more could earn this designation in the coming year. And Act 47 oversight is far harsher than what Philadelphia is subject to.
We suppose that every distressed city is distressed in its own way, and for different reasons, but state leaders should be alarmed at these numbers. We hope they begin to look at new ways to address the financial problems of cities and towns - including the role that they themselves play in this distress.
Cities and towns have to manage responsibly - and PICA has allowed Philadelphia to do that. Ironically, though, the kind of state budget cuts that the commonwealth's municipalities are reeling under simply puts them on a faster track to state oversight.