Clock ticking to Philly's "Doomsday Budget"

September 10, 2009 7:04:47 PM PDT
An expected House vote on a bill to help Philadelphia solve its money problems failed to happen.An expected House vote on a bill to help Philadelphia solve its money problems failed to happen Thursday, as House Democrats advanced a plan to weaken a Senate amendment calling for an overhaul of the state's municipal pension laws.

Signs will be posted at all Philadelphia recreation centers and libraries today, telling people that both types of facilities will close their doors in 22 days if the city is forced to resort to layoffs.

Some libraries and rec centers house supervised after school programs that would close. That action would force parents to scramble for hard-to-find safe alternatives.

"We're about to let our young people roam free on the street, being idle with nothing to do," said Susan Slawson, Philadelphia's Commissioner of Recreation.

Facing a $1.4 billion budget deficit over the next 5 years, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter says the shut down can only be avoided if the state passes legislation that allows Philadelphia to raise its sales tax from 7% to 8% and change the way it manages pensions.

Ultimately a shutdown would impact a number of city services:

  • Trash pick up would be reduced from weekly to every other week
  • 900 recently hired police officers would be laid off

"The very districts that are responsible for the majority of crime in 2007 will have the greatest loss of personnel," said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey.

Meanwhile, Philadelphia's city controller says the plan to lay off 3,000 city workers isn't workable.

City Controller Alan Butkovitz wrote to the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, which must approve the budget, about his concerns.

Among other things, Butkovitz wrote in Wednesday's four-page letter that the mayor's plan would cut off all funding for courts. Butkovitz says a state Supreme Court order telling the state to pay for court costs 22 years ago has never been enforced and the city can't simply shut the courts down.

Mayoral spokesman Doug Oliver says without key budget approvals from the state Legislature, the city won't have the money to pay for the courts anyway. The city has asked the state to approve a temporary sales tax increase in Philadelphia and allow changes to how the city makes its pension payments.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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