Brenda Jorett talks to Mayor Michael Nutter about the city’s economy and budget

    By: Brenda Jorett

    Brenda welcomed Mayor Michael Nutter to Morning Edition and asked the Mayor about the continued deterioration in the city’s economy and budget. Mayor Nutter announced that he would soon be revealing the full extent of the city’s current fiscal situation and plans to open up the upcoming budget process to citizen input. They also discussed the effect of the recession on crime in the city.

    By: Brenda Jorett
    bjorett@whyy.org

    Brenda welcomed Mayor Michael Nutter to Morning Edition and asked the Mayor about the continued deterioration in the city’s economy and budget. Mayor Nutter announced that he would soon be revealing the full extent of the city’s current fiscal situation and plans to open up the upcoming budget process to citizen input. They also discussed the effect of the recession on crime in the city.

    [audio: reports20090113nutter.mp3]

    Transcript:

    WHYY’s Brenda Jorett: Mayor Michael Nutter says it could be just days until he can reveal the latest figures on the rising city budget deficit amid the U.S. recession.  He joins us this morning with a look at economic and other issues in the city as his second year in office is under way.  Good morning, Mayor.

    Mayor Michael Nutter: Good morning, Brenda how are you?  Happy New Year to you.

    BJ:
    I’m well and same to you.  I guess we can say that until the 15th of the month and then we don’t say Happy New Year anymore

    MN: Is that the rule?

    BJ: I think so. I just made it up. The economic issues: of course, troubling times for the City of Philadelphia.  Are you having daily meetings with your people to go over what’s happening inch by inch, budget line by budget line?

    MN: Well, we’ve been doing that for a while. We of course regularly monitor what’s going on with our tax revenue and collections and the overall economy.  I’m sure much like President-elect Obama and his team are doing.  This is something that you have to stay on top of.  It continues to rapidly move and unfortunately continues to deteriorate. We’ve gotten preliminary figures from the last quarter of 2008 and I had already mentioned last year that in a couple areas we were already seeing further deterioration: real estate transfer tax and of course the pension system, which is a function of what goes on in the stock market.

    BJ: How far down are we or up if you want to look at it that way in terms of the billion dollar five-year rolling deficit?  Is it rising well above a billion?

    MN: Well we were already slightly above a billion when I made the announcement back on November 6th of last year – just a little over a billion dollars for our five year plan and I said back when we were still having the town meetings I think the one up in the Northeast on a Monday night that we knew that the over billion dollar figure had grown for our five year plan.  And as I heard your intro, I expect shortly to announce what the new number is.

    BJ: You love that word shortly.  When is shortly?  Are we days away?  A week or two?

    MN: Certainly within the week.  We want to make sure that we have as accurate and up to date information as possible. We’ve been talking with outside economic observers as well.  We want to make sure to test our own assumptions and projections against what others who are in the business but not in the government and what they see.  We want to make as sure as possible and be as clear as possible about what we see in the near term as well as projections down the road.

    BJ: In terms of the budget process then.  One of the biggest complaints from citizens was that they didn’t have a say soon enough in this situation, this economic crisis that came about.  How will this budget process differ in terms of getting more people the chance to step up and talk about potential cuts, layoffs, etc. that might be in your plan?

    MN: That’s one of the other things that when I make the announcement about our current financial situation, I’ll also be talking much more in depth about the upcoming budget process.  It will have a significant amount of citizen participation, opportunities for input, unlike anything that the city government has ever done in the past.  We want to make sure that we’re hearing from citizens as much as possible.  But also not just hearing from folks and what their concerns and complaints may be, but at the same time, we need more information out there and also I want citizens to have a much better sense of what it takes to balance a budget – what it means to have trade offs – When you have x amount of dollars and then some of that goes away, the kinds of choices that you have to make. City government is pretty big but I think it can be applied to your own household.  If you have x amount of dollars coming in per month, per year, and if you have a sudden revenue loss, what kind of cutbacks, what kind of changes in your own behavior, literally in your own household, would you make?  And those are some of the same choices that we have to make, obviously on a much bigger scale, but the principles are the same.  And so there will be a much greater period for public input before we make any decisions.  And that was certainly one of the lessons that we learned from just a couple months ago and again I apologize to the citizens for that.  It was a rapidly rising tide going against us and we had to make some critical decisions and we had to make some critical decisions in a pretty fast fashion.

    BJ: Mayor, forty-five seconds left, with unemployment rising and we have the city’s effects from the budget, library hours cut, the city pool issue still outstanding for the summer, you’re pleased about the drop in crime but crime is something that can be affected by an ongoing recession as well as other issues.  What do you see on your plate to try to keep tabs on how the recession is affecting the citizen population?

    MN: My number one priority of course among day to day citizen services is making sure that the city is safe, that our citizens, especially our children, are in safe environments and that they’re getting a good education and we respond to the economic crisis to make sure that we have jobs and economic opportunity. But increasingly, Brenda, the fiscal integrity of our city government looms paramount.  Again, much like when you hear President-elect Obama talking about the number one issue in the country is jobs and the number two issue is jobs and the number three issue is jobs, for us the number one issue really is fiscal integrity.  If don’t have the resources we need, we can’t provide all the great services that people want.

    BJ: Mayor, thank you very much.  Mayor Nutter this morning.

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