Credit lapse

    If a president’s first duty is provide for the country’s defense, a mayor’s first duty is probably to keep the city financially secure.

    And now, just as Mayor Nutter plans his re-election effort, the city’s credit rating falls a notch. Yikes, that trips some memories.

    Mayors Frank Rizzo and Wilson Goode papered over fiscal problems during their re-election campaigns, and financial crises followed with ruinous political consequences.

    By the end of the Goode’s second term, the city’s finances were such a mess that they made financial analyst Sam Katz a credible candidate, and dictated the agenda of winning candidate Ed Rendell.

    What’s ahead for 2011?

    Despite the ratings downgrade (from only one of three agencies), the city’s fiscal picture looks reasonably solid.

    But there are a couple of land mines waiting. One is labor costs. The city’s two AFSCME unions have gone nearly a year and a half without a new contract, and that won’t last forever. A new contract could add major fiscal stress.

    The other potential booby trap is an austere state budget from Pennsylvania’s new Republican governor.

    The Democratic primary is May 17th.

    Nutter might be scrambling to find tens of millions to pay workers and make up collapsing state assistance next spring. And with a state oversight board checking the numbers, he can’t paper over problems the way past mayors could.

    So he could be in a nasty mess right in the heat of a primary campaign.

    Or not.

    So Bill Green, I have one question for you: Do you feel lucky?

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