Virus: Good time to trim the city budget

Because this is an alternative, middlest, nonpartisan news and opinion source, I try to find angles before the MSM gets to them, or to present them in a different way.

Surveying the economic lockdown on March 30, I wrote: “Next year, when ‘normal’ returns, brace yourself: Every jurisdiction that depends on tax revenue will be deep in the red. Making it back will fall on…you?”

Mayor Jim Kenney must wield an ax. (Photo: CBS Philly)

More than a week later, stories broke in the local press: Mayor Jim Kenney announced he was withdrawing his budget because there was no way it would balance. This was followed by a matching story from the state — Pennsylvania is looking at a possible $4 billion shortfall.

Kenney promised “painful cuts” to the bloated $5.2 billion budget he proposed in March. When he took office four years ago, the city budget was $4 billion. He drove it up 25% with hardly a whisper of protest from local fiscal watch dogs who seem to think this is Beverly Hills rather than the poorest big city in America, with a poverty rate of 24.5%.

The U.S. rate of inflation over the last four years was a maximum of 2.3%, while General Fund expenditures from fiscal year 2017 to 2019 rose at an annual rate of 7.1%, according to Philadelphia Controller Rebecca Rhynhart.

With a budget swollen by 25% over four years, you might expect cleaner sidewalks, smoothly paved streets, synchronized traffic lights, a falling homicide rate, improved city services, and so on. 

Well, you’d be wrong. A recent Philadelphia government poll reported two-thirds of Philadelphians rated city services as fair or poor.

The generous mayor went on a hiring spree — which didn’t relieve the poverty rate — and was a fountain who showered city workers with money. 

The city’s payroll went up 8% as 945 positions were added between fiscal 2017 and 2019, creating an historically high staffing level. “Despite adding new employees, the city’s overtime per employee has increased,” said the Controller in a February report. “Typically, an increase in employees should result in less overtime.”

Both the mayor and Gov. Tom Wolf talked about cuts to their budgets. Neither of them used the T-word, taxes, because that’s like touching the third rail, but let’s be real.

The city anticipated having a fund balance of $352 million, thanks in part to the soda tax, which was supposed to only fund pre-K and community rebuilds.

Poof! Gone.

Down the drain are the hotel tax, amusement tax, liquor by-the-drink tax and use and occupancy taxes. Wages taxes, which account for 45% of the city’s annual revenue, have been decimated. Commuters contribute 40% of tax collections — $640 million in 2019 — but those taxes are not collected if they work from home. And they are working from home.

Things are so bad Kenney had to make a U-turn on his ill-advised plan to pay a 50% bonus to city workers for doing their jobs. Mass furloughs of nonessential workers are expected, although the city claimed 15,000 of the 27,000 city employees were “essential.”

I don’t relish the idea of anyone losing their job, but there will be a reckoning there.

I’d start the cutting in the mayor’s office, but apply scrutiny to all departments.

Does he need four deputy mayors? The U.S. president manages with only one vice president.

The above chart is missing the recently-added office of children and families, and the office of immigrant affairs. The chart just keeps growing as new “oppressed” groups are discovered.

We have three labor-related offices. How about just one? Since Philadelphia has a school system, why does the mayor need a community schools and pre-K office?  I did not contact the mayor’s office for comment as it does not recognize me as a journalist.

Then we have offices for LGBT affairs, disabilities, women, youth, and black male engagement, whatever that is. I’m sure someone can explain why these offices were created, but I am asking if they are actually necessary or just virtue signals?

Do each of these slices of our community require a full-time office? How many can be handled by existing agencies? 

The budget has to take a haircut that’s going to look like a Mohawk. The last thing Philly — already the highest-taxed big city in America — needs is another tax. 

Chop the swollen budget to avoid it.

20 thoughts on “Virus: Good time to trim the city budget”

  1. There are four levels of spending:
    1. You spend your money on yourself (You earned it, it is yours to do with as you please)
    2. You spend your money on others (You earned it, it is yours to share with others)
    3. You spend someone else’s money on yourself (You didn’t earn it, but you try to spend it wisely as it isn’t yours)
    4. You spend someone else’s money on someone else (You didn’t earn it, and it’s not being spent on yourself, you you don’t care how wisely or unwisely you spend it)

    Level 4 (above) is government at all levels, federal, state, local. The City of Philadelphia is Level 4 gone mad.

  2. HAPPY EASTER to ALL !!!
    With great sarcasm, selectively close firehouses, cut the police force, cancel all recruiting for both the cops and firemen, park the street sweepers and the list is longer. I just wont bore you. I wont mention the free handouts to everyone that is far from deserving.
    Instead, ( here I go ), make city employees accountable and responsible . When I was with the city, I believe that there were +/- 27,000 employed counting cops and fire. It was estimated that 30% of the workfarce wasn’t needed. Emergency services probably takes the biggest bite of the budget. Sorry to say, we need all of the cops, firemen, etc., and the proper equipment for those people to do their jobs. That means, like Stu writes, cut the fat from every department. In civil service, you are supposed to be trained then paid for the job that you are supposed to be doing. WOOPS ! there I go again, asking for accountability. There is no need for most of the upper end positions. They are just there because it’s another step on the civil service ladder. People are encouraged to get education to further advance their career. That’s nice. Why do we need to hire degreed professionals when most of the work goes to bid – third party engineering and consulting firms. Why have L&I require all inspectors to be certified, if they are not going to enforce the city codes ?
    Lots of waste

    1. Tony: your sarcasm is so on target! EVERY time one hears of a ‘budget crunch’ and the need to ‘cut costs,’ the next thing you hear is ‘we have to close the libraries, lay off police and firemen, cut rent and heating subsidies,’ et cetera. Those proposed ‘cuts’ then bring on a howl of protests, which ‘forces’ the parasites — er, leaders — in government to sigh deeply and ever-so-reluctantly tell the suckers — er, taxpayers — that the ONLY remedy is to raise taxes. It is tiring, worn-out game that always works, which is why it is always used. And the final act of stupidity is every few years the people go to the polls and re-elect their taskmasters.

      1. Vince,
        more sarcasm :
        DROP ! With this fantastic interest rate, I’m sure that the city employees are glad for the windfall, courtesy of the taxpayers.
        Snow removal: City employees are paid straight time to either ride shotgun or plow or just to be on the clock. I found that the latter is usually the case. Contractors are paid +/- $300 per hour for man plus machine. They actually earn their money.

        1. How about the union rules on pothole work in Philadelphia? Union mandate: (1) truck driver; (2) one person to dig out the hole; (3) one person to fill the hole; (4) one person to tamp the hole; (5) a supervisor. I kid you not, five people to do what two or even one could do.

          1. Vince,
            ( more sarcasm ) That crew is (sic) working short handed !
            You are correct. Each person has an assigned task. All laborers, at a different pay scale.
            Streets: everybody starts on the back of the truck, then tests to move up. Philly will train you, when drivers (cdl) are short handed.
            Every contractor crew that I knew, said the same thing. Five to do what 2 of us do – in less time, to boot !
            I had ten years with PWD. I could tell you stories that would make you cringe for the ineptitude. But as always, two sides signed the contract.

  3. Sarcasm: common sense + government efficiency (double oxymoron) = Donald Trump. Two negatives = a positive!
    We need more engaged voters, or is that an oxymoron, too?

    Note: no DROP for moi, instead 40% SS cut (windfall elimination tax under RR) which was a shock.
    I would still vote for him.

      1. Tom,
        Here’s hoping that everyone comes out in one piece.
        I know that you and the police do not partake in the DROP .
        You guys, first responders, cops, fire are hired to do a job. I don’t begrudge you one dime . Most people wouldn’t think once about going into a burning building. Maybe, if more people got a good whiff of smoke, they would pay you guys a decent wage.

        1. Tony,
          I apparently didn’t splain myself above. DROP was meant for uniform and they do indeed qualify, but our beloved City council got hold of it and, so on and so forth. I was already retired, so out of the picture. I was happy as s**t that many of my buddies took advantage of it. As far as how it works I don’t give a hoot. It was, as far as I know, CC who f****d the taxpayer. Stu may know more than me?
          Yes, police and ff deserve better!!
          The fire I mentioned was yesterday’s blog, me being facetious. U probably know?1

          1. Tom,
            I sit corrected. Police and Fire divisions are eligible at age 50 with 10 years of service. I don’t remember reading this section when I was looking to retire, but shoulda, coulda, woulda.

    1. Seymour’s Daughter, I will take your lack of responding to mean you do generalize quite a bit but are much too embarrassed to ever admit it. If I am wrong please correct me.

      1. H Bogart,

        Sorry, just seeing this now. I actually have a busy life, and have not been on here much.

        No, not generalizing at all. Democrats live taxing and spending, especially on bs. Its why I’m an Independent.

  4. Dear Stu, Your weighing in on the city cutting the fat and time for the city to get on a diet is are right on. The offices of those who are aggrieved need to go. But one of the biggest cuts that could be made is once and for all getting rid of the 4 row offices. How much money could we save by getting rid of this historical absurdity. All of them are independent of the city governing structure and their continued existence goes against the spirit of open government. They are pits of patronage and political favoritism and they add yet another layer of bureaucracy and are a means of going around existing hiring rules. While we are at it, we need to reform the way that the city unions enable the keeping of dead wood on the payroll. All of us, I’m sure, have friends who work for the city and who can tell us stories of people who are incompetent and lazy occupying the same positions for years despite being written up over and over and over. End of my rant for the morning.

  5. Inqiurer published one of my letters in today’s paper espousing these same sentiments. The Inquirer had picture the other day about the virus and the opioid users on Kensington Av. And there was a CLIP person sweeping the street with a broom and dustpan. He was in front of two house with extreme overgrown years that have be abandon for years. Just looking at the properties if you counted the agencies that didn’t do there jobs over the years it had to be at least 6 or 7. These probably owe thousands in property taxes, water and gas bills and should have been sheriff sealed years ago. L$I should have boarded them up and CLIP should have maintained the yards and how many other agencies dropped the ball. It’s time to use the old life theorem “keep it simple stupid”. Stupid includes City Council.

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