Slow growth in next year's budget

Posted: March 07, 2014

THE $3.8 billion budget that Mayor Nutter will propose to City Council today would increase spending by only 1.3 percent, which is less than inflation, according to a budget overview obtained by the Daily News.

Excluding a pass-through appropriation that would be triggered only if the city sells Philadelphia Gas Works, Nutter is proposing a $47 million uptick in spending. Of that, $32 million would go to nondiscretionary pension and debt-service costs, and the rest would be scattered across selected programs.

The budget includes no major departmental cuts.

Growth is slow because some taxes grew slower than expected this year and a temporary 1 percentage-point increase in the sales tax (to 8 percent) is set to expire in July. (Lawmakers are considering extending the tax hike and sending the money to the pension fund and school district.)

In the five-year fiscal plan Nutter also is unveiling today, he dramatically increased the amount of money set aside for future labor costs, from $95 million in last year's plan to $375 million.

That includes $40 million for the city's blue-collar municipal union, which has been locked in a contract dispute for four years that likely will cost much more to settle, as well as $53 million for firefighters and paramedics and $121 million for police officers.

Nutter will not propose any new funding measures for the school district. But he is counting on lawmakers to pass two city taxes that would send a combined $203 million more to the district: a $2-per-pack city cigarette tax that needs state approval; and the extension of the sales tax, which is caught in a standoff between Council and the state General Assembly.

Nutter has joined Council's calls for Harrisburg to amend the sales tax so that the pension fund gets more money before the city passes it. But his budget plans include the current state-adopted version, which sends most of the revenue to the district.

Extending the tax will be a major debate this spring.

Highlights of programs that would get a boost in General Fund spending under Nutter's proposed budget include:

* $2.5 million to keep all libraries open six days a week. (Currently, 39 of 49 neighborhood libraries are open five days.)

* $1.9 million for the Office of Property Assessment.

* $500,000 in startup costs for the newly established Land Bank.

* $500,000 for the Community College of Philadelphia to offset tuition increases.

* $1 million for the Office of Supportive Housing to make up for federal sequestration cuts.

* $500,000 for the Mann Music Center "to fund continued operations at this important cultural institution."

Nutter is proposing a $131.5 million capital budget, which would be the city's biggest since 2002. Supported projects include:

* $24 million to continue information-technology improvements.

* $15 million for rec-center improvements throughout the city.

* $10 million to buy new large vehicles including ambulances and trash trucks.

On Twitter: @SeanWalshDN


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