Cut and run

Nutter scales back public input on 2011 budget as city’s fiscal challenges mount.

By Brendan Skwire
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 11 | Posted Mar. 1, 2010

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Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter

Photo by Jeff Fusco

“Last year was a great learning experience for us. And many of the lessons learned last year are more than pertinent this year."

That’s Mayor Nutter, reflecting on the pages of the Inquirer on the successes and failures of last year’s “People’s Budget,” in which Philadelphians were invited to decide whether they wanted to do away with their libraries, their pools or their fire engines.  In the end, we agreed to go with a slightly higher sales tax, which set off a major shitstorm in Harrisburg. 

Unfortunately, the mayor seems to have drawn the wrong lesson: there aren’t going to be any forums like last year.  The public is decidedly not invited to weigh in, and that has caught the attention, and undoubtedly the ire, of the Coalition for Essential Services. (In the interest of full disclosure, I was a member of this group until mid-summer 2009).

Sherrie Cohen, a prominent member of the Coalition, is not holding her breath though, and neither is the Coalition, which is girding, again, for the worst. And they’d be crazy not to. “We know that this is the mayor who wanted to ‘rightsize’ city services,” she says, but he really meant “downsize, though the needs of our city are outsized: Philadelphians have the poorest health of any county in the state, the highest incarceration rate of the nation’s 50 largest counties, the highest poverty rate of the nation’s 10 largest cities, and the second highest rate of hunger in the nation.”

Cohen and the Coalition are absolutely right. Nutter likes to brag about his commitment to education and to the city’s youth, but what was his first target when the shit hit the fan? He went right after the city’s libraries, which (like the one in my neighborhood) often double as school libraries for city schools that lack them. For a mayor who is committed to lowering our unemployment rate, he pulled the rug out from under low-income people who can’t afford computers at home and depend on libraries for Internet access to search and apply for jobs.

Kristin Campbell, West Philly resident and founding member and organizer of the Coalition to Save the Libraries, is worried too.

“With Nutter’s 2011 budget address just a week away, and after struggling with a Free Library system that was gutted by $8 million dollars in 2010’s budget, I'm angry that there has not been any venue for participatory budgeting over the past few months,” she says. “Our libraries are some of the last institutions that offer free educational resources in communities across Philadelphia.”

As it is the libraries are operating on a shoestring schedule. The mayor slashed 20 percent of the library’s budget, eliminating 117 library staff positions. “This included 11 security guards,” Cohen says. “But at the same time, the Free Library established new requirements that branches must have at least four staff members coming into work in order to open, and that one of them must be a security guard. Contract guards were taking the place of the permanent guards, but the budget for contract guards has been exhausted. In the past year, not one permanent security guard has been hired to replace any of the 11 guards who transferred out of the libraries scheduled for closure.”

The result has been less library access and more rolling closures. And with the public essentially cut out of the budget, what happens now is anyone’s guess. The Coalition is undeterred. Argues Campbell: “If the mayor decides to cut these services any further — he better be ready for another groundswell of public outrage.”  Let’s hope she’s right.



On a very different note, it’s no secret that the economy is in the shitter and is going to be there for some time to come. This really hit home a few weeks ago when the Weekly had to cut costs, and unfortunately my column is one of the casualties.  It has been a pleasure and a challenge writing for the Weekly, but this is my last column. Please visit me at my nook on the Net,


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Comments 1 - 11 of 11
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1. Levana said... on Mar 2, 2010 at 09:29AM

“How will keep up with all the *!?&ups in Philly? I will miss your column.”

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2. seand said... on Mar 2, 2010 at 09:55AM

“It sounds like its going to be trading the right to move out of the city for pensions turned to 401k's for new city hires on the model of the FOP contract (if he can get it) - mixed with a tax on sodas and sugar drinks - mixed with a garbage collection fee.

Nutter's statements about the budget already talks a lot about how he wants to focus on promoting literacy so it seems he learned a lot from the library fight.

RE: the garbage fee
#1 - its a new tax, no matter what you call it. And a tax on residents and small businesses.

#2 - If you do the fees it should be coupled to how many containers you put out and mechanized cans that use swing arms. With swing arms you need less guys per truck and there are way less expensive on-the-job injuries. Safer and cheaper - who doesn't like that. Paying per container incentivizes recycling. But it also requires an education campaign on where public dumps are, so people doing big basement cleanouts, contractors, etc. don't do short haul dumping.”

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3. mandarax said... on Mar 2, 2010 at 10:47AM

“I'm so worried about what this year's budget situation will look like... I can't agree with you more about the libraries. They are such an essential part of communities. They are not just places to borrow free books... they are technology centers, after school centers, places for community gatherings, and more.

For a stomach-churning laugh, I'm sure you've seen the Glenn Beck clip where he supports public libraries because they provide free access to books... sadly he does not seem to understand that taxes pay for this!”

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4. alex said... on Mar 2, 2010 at 07:39PM

“Well, all good things must come to an end.

Well, I guess there's one less reason to read the Weekly. I guess I'm back to the City Paper and all the tranny hooker ads.

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5. Coalition for Saving our own asses said... on Mar 2, 2010 at 10:12PM

“Coalition for Essential Services is wrong, of course. It's basically a lobbying group for the myriad non-profits whose work us of varying value. they don't want to lose their jobs which is what they lobby for. Actually helping people is secondary, even if they knew how to do so. CES corrupted the entire process last year by rigging the options and the way the questions were worded. Nutter indeed learned the right lesson, the talking directly to the people is impossible with morally bankrupt organizations like CES standing in the way.”

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6. Stan Shapiro said... on Mar 3, 2010 at 09:23AM

“Lots of good comments here except for the last incredibly stupid one. CES didn't frame the questions, in fact we protested the structure of those questions repeatedly. We came to the forums with the intent of raising tax options that were progressive and completely different from regressive ones that the City tried to pretend were the only options available. If protesters only wanted to save their own jobs, why would they have cared about which taxes would be imposed? Who are you comment 5 guy, Nutter?”

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7. brendancalling said... on Mar 3, 2010 at 12:47PM

“i recognize #5 froma similar comment at I think Stand responded to this commenter there too.
ces had nothing to do with the options presented or the questions. that was the MAYOR and the Penn Praxis people. CES challenged those questions, repeatedly. I know BECAUSE I WAS THERE.”

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8. CJ said... on Mar 4, 2010 at 10:37PM

“CUT CITY SPENDING you IDIOT! Stop increasing to taxes to meet the cities increasing are driving jobs and residents like me OUT TO THE BURBS! Hows that WAGE TAX working for us?”

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9. Anonymous said... on Mar 5, 2010 at 01:45AM

“I guess your cheerleaders will just have to read your blog. Who would have thought they actually paid you”

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10. wendymae said... on Mar 8, 2010 at 06:48PM

“philly loses a great and much needed voice. maybe they'll rehire you when the economy turns around. wait, what am i saying? that probably won't be in our lifetimes.

the ones who are neediest have the least voice, and are the ones that suffer the most in a bad economy. of course the haves will always scream about "losing" to the have nots.

and fwiw, soda tax, in my opinion, is a no brainer. but nutter's tax is way too high. just make it a regular sales taxable item and no one will even feel the pain. maybe some people will actually stop and think about the poison they are putting in their bodies. tax candy too...these are not essentials fer crissake, but libraries and education are.”

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11. brendancalling said... on Mar 10, 2010 at 12:25PM

“@9: is that you mayor nutter?”


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