Mayor Nutter stops budget speech amid protests (PHOTOS)

March 14, 2013 8:20:47 PM PDT
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter was forced to stop his budget address on Thursday afternoon after loud protests drowned out his speech.

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"If you have a guest and I was a guest, if you have a guest in your house, then you need to make sure that your guest is treated in an appropriate fashion," Mayor Michael Nutter said to Action News Thursday night.

Hours earlier, around 12:30 p.m., Nutter arrived in city council chambers as protestors - union members angry about the lack of contracts - shouted, blew whistles and held signs saying "Mayor Nutter Keep Your Word" and "Mayor Bozo."

After waiting a few moments, Nutter began his speech - shouting to be heard over the protestors.

After a few minutes, a recess was called but Nutter kept going. He left the podium once but returned and tried to talk again. After continued protests, Nutter left the podium once more.

. Council President Darrell Clarke quickly adjourned the meeting much to the dismay of the mayor.

"If the council had stayed in session, I would have given my budget address," Nutter said Thursday night.

The mayor left the chamber and had to navigate the overflow crowd in the hallway who continued to taunt and jeer him.

He retreated to the president's office as the angry crowd followed him.

Within a half hour, the mayor delivered his full speech in his second floor reception Room; only the media was allowed and his top aides cheered him on.

The mayor was then asked about essentially being run out of council chambers.

"There's nothing for me to be embarrassed about. I came to give a speech; I tried to give a speech. The circumstances and conditions were such that the body recessed its session, so at that point, in terms of council members there was no one to give the speech to," Nutter said.

There were no arrests during the demonstration.

By law, the mayor's not bound by the city charter to give a speech; all he has to do is send in his budget message and plan by a specific date.

The Unions' Message

Three of the city's four biggest unions have been without contracts since 2009. Last month, Nutter petitioned the state Supreme Court to intervene in the stalemate with District Council 33, which represents thousands of blue-collar municipal workers.

The unions had two goals: They wanted to shout down Mayor Michael Nutter and convince council members to join their cause.

They achieved one goal, but, it remains to be seen if they've accomplished the other.

Mayor Nutter gave up Thursday afternoon when he couldn't get a word in edgewise.

Council was also unable to carry on, and Council President Darrell Clarke adjourned the session.

He says he will now do what he can to try to bring the two sides together.

"I may not be welcome, but I'm just saying I'm prepared to play whatever role as a council person to resolve those issues," Clarke said.

The union demonstration may have gotten the attention of Clarke and the rest of council.

But Clarke says the mayor's right about trying to reign in the big ticket item, out of control pension costs.

Pete Matthews heads District Council 33, representing 6,800 city workers.

He says the pension issue is one thing, but their biggest concern is Nutter's insistence on a furlough clause that would allow the city to furlough workers without pay for three weeks a year.

"Only thing we're saying is take off the table is the furlough days cause they are not necessary. That's for him to destroy the union because he has a layoff clause; if he doesn't balance that budget now, he can lay off," Matthews said.

The unions donate a lot of money to elect Democrats in this city and they expect more from their Democratic mayor and mostly Democratic city council.

They've gone more than three years without a contract, and the frustration clearly boiled over today.

After shouting down the mayor, hundreds of union members spilled out into the hallways and the streets around City Hall causing massive gridlock.

Action News asked Matthews if he's worried about losing whatever public support they might have.

"I mean we're out here for everybody and we'll continue to be on the mayor's case until he sits down, starts telling the truth, and we can sit down and negotiate a contract fairly," Matthews said.

The unions may have succeeded in shutting the mayor down in council chambers, but he says it hasn't changed his position on the issue of furloughs.

"The union's position seems to be that they support layoffs of their own members, well, I don't actually support that," Nutter said.

The Mayor's Plan

After the disruption in council chambers, the mayor finished his budget address in a separate room.

He is proposing a $3.75-billion plan centered around a change in property taxes. The Actual Value Initiative, as it is called, will use reassessed property values as the basis for what owners will pay.

Nutter is proposing to set the tax rate at 1.32 percent, which he says will generate the same amount of revenue under the current system.

Just over half of the tax money would go to the school district.

To reduce the impact of higher property tax bills for some homeowners, the mayor wants a $15,000 Homestead Exemption.

He also wants to cut the Wage Tax over the next 5 years.


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