Nutter sets deadline for "doomsday budget"

August 3, 2009 10:06:29 AM PDT
Pennsylvanians aren't any closer to having a new state budget in place following talks Sunday in Harrisburg, and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said if something doesn't happen soon, the city will be a much different place to live.The impasse is now two days into its second month.

Governor Ed Rendell and legislative leaders made no progress during their two hours of talks.

In fact, Senate Republican leader Dominic Pileggi says the latest talks were a step backward.

Democratic leaders in the House could pass a bare-bones spending plan Tuesday to help pay state workers.

Meanwhile, Philadelphia City leaders say these latest turns are putting city finances into dire straits.

On Monday morning, they called on residents to put the heat on Harrisburg.

Nutter and city council agreed to close a $700 million gap in the city budget by raising the city's sales tax by 1% and reforming its pension plan. However, both plans need approval from the state legislature, and are still awaiting action. Lawmakers say, none will be taken until a budget is passed.

Nutter also set a deadline, saying he needs action from the state by August 15th. If that doesn't happen, 972 police officers would be cut, as would 196 firefighters. All libraries and rec centers would be closed, along with two health centers and the entire Fairmount Park Commission.

Dozens of police officers, firefighters and community leaders assembled at the 2nd and 15th police districts in Northeast Philadelphia on Monday. There, Nutter expressed his frustration with the state legislature, and the so-called "doomsday budget" that could become reality in the city later this month.

"This is not about what you like. This is about doing what needs to be done on behalf of the people that you represent," Mayor Nutter said. "I think we are, unfortunately, way after that point."

The head of the firefighter's union is already preparing for a fight with the mayor.

"We'll fight it in court, we'll fight it in the court of public opinion, we'll fight it with council," said Bill Gault. "I have to, it's my job to protect firemen and medics."

The spending plan was due on June 30th, and Governor Rendell and legislative leaders seem to be no closer on a compromise.

"We're not asking for a handout. We are asking for a hand. Philadelphians have suffered enough," Nutter said.

Right now, it looks like lawmakers are poised to work on the stopgap measure to pay state workers, then get back to work on a full budget, which may not be approved until later this summer. Only then would they get to passing the legislation designed to help Philadelphia.

Mayor Nutter said he does not like that timeline at all, and headed to Harrisburg to persuade lawmakers otherwise.