Mayor Nutter unveils his budget proposal. The battle has already begun.
Mayor Michael Nutter’s proposed 2010 budget garnered mixed reaction this morning from a packed house of lawmakers, community activists and union members.
“This is not a time for philosophical debates, this is the time for tough leadership,” Nutter said, adding that he is not worried about the next election.
“Better start worrying!” an audience member shouted back.
But community activists cheered as Nutter announced that the budget will preserve “core services” -- but would “invest in our young people” by keeping open recreation centers, libraries and health centers across the city. There will be no police or fire layoffs. He also announced that more pools will be open this summer than previously announced.
There will be a cost, however.
Saying that “nothing in life is free“ and “no magic can transform our situation from what it is,” Nutter said there would be cuts to city spending, along with tax and fee increases that include a temporary 1 percent increase on sales tax and a roughly 19 increase on property tax -- acts necessary to close the gap on a staggering $1.4 billion deficit. Nutter is asking the Assembly in Harrisburg to approve these revenue proposals.
The sales tax proposal drew a negative reaction from onlookers at City Hall, sparking a chant of "Don't tax the poor!" from members for the Coalition for Essential Services.
Kenneth Austin of Women’s Community Revitalization Project, says that as long as the sales tax is temporary, he’s okay with it. The property tax issue, however, is his sticking point because it could affect affordable housing for some of the most vulnerable Philadelphians including “the sick, the elderly and the homeless.” said Austin. “I didn’t hear anything about that.”
Phyllis Williams, a retiree from Wynnefield who attended the meeting, said the property tax assessment system is broken and is in dire need of repair. She said her taxes have gone up twice in the past two years - $1,000 each time – without an assessor ever entering her home. “They just drive down the block and look from the outside.”
The mayor called on Philadelphians to step up and be part of the solution or “sit down and be quiet.” Nutter cited the passionate responses from those who attended town hall meetings held across the city since the rebalancing was announced, and sternly told those citizens, “make sure you follow through and volunteer.”
Nutter, who cannot require unionized employees to take a furlough, instead asks each city employee to take voluntary furlough day, projecting to save $4.1 million annually.
Reaction was swift.
The Young Philly Politics blog called Nutter’s budget “sane and humane.”
“If City Council wants to figure out alternative revenue streams, as I really hope they do, that is their prerogative,” wrote Dan U-A at the popular blog. “But, this is a really good baseline to start from: protect essential services.”
The first tussle at City Hall was not budget-related, however. Two men were forcibly removed from gallery viewing area, one having been carried by arms and legs, after refusing to be seated. During the opening remarks,the Frankford Chargers football team were being honored for their national Pop Warner championship win. Two men in the gallery stood, holding signs and calmly but loudly repeated, "Shareef Jones, Frankford Chargers, murdered by Philadelphia Police, August 2007" as the boys were having their photos taken with a councilwoman. The scuffle broke out as security asked the men to be seated.
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Mayor Nutter’s budget plan doesn’t call for laying-off any cops or firefighters. He won’t be closing the libraries. Good news, right? So why is Philly’s activist community still crying foul?