Mayor Nutter talks taxes, DROP and Final Four on WHYY

    On Tuesday morning, Mayor Michael Nutter joined WHYY for a chat about his plans to raise revenues and his recent disagreements with City Council over their city-issued cars and participation in the controversial DROP program. The transcript of this conversation is now available.

    On Tuesday morning, Mayor Michael Nutter joined WHYY for a chat about his plans to raise revenues and his recent disagreements with City Council over their city-issued cars and participation in the controversial DROP program.  The transcript of this conversation is now available.

    Dave Heller: Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter joins me now live on the line to talk about some of issues facing the city. Mayor Nutter, you’re looking to close the city’s budget gap by raising property taxes.  That’s despite advice from your financial team admitting that the tax is sloppily administered.  Why not consider another way like wage tax or some other levy?

    Mayor Michael Nutter: Well the wage tax has been demonstrated probably over the last 30, 40, if not 50 years to be one of the worst taxes in the city.  It’s a tax on jobs.  It drives residents to leave Philadelphia as well as businesses and the commitment here is that we not take short term actions that can have a long term negative impact on the city’s economy.  Clearly, the property tax system, the property assessment needs to be fixed, but it is the system that we have at the moment. I expect in about a year that we’ll have a new system but we need the revenues today.

    DH: Well the property and sales tax increases you’re looking for are supposed to be two-year temporary hikes.  How can you reassure tax payers that really, really, really will be temporary?

    MN: Well, we wrote it right into the legislation.  That’s how clear, that’s how direct, that’s how honest we are about it.  If you look at the legislation, it has an end date. You’ve never seen a temporary tax increase bill with an actual end date in it. And that’s the commitment that we’re making to the citizens.  This is a temporary economic crisis and therefore suggested that we only have a temporary increase of these revenues.  The property tax is temporary for two years and the sales tax is temporary for three years.  That’s how I’ve outlined it in our budget and our five-year plan and that’s the proposal that we’ve put forward.  And what citizen’s get for that is to maintain the force and size of our police department, to maintain the size and force of our fire department, to keep all of our libraries open, to keep all of our rec centers open, all of our health centers open, maintain our commitment to the homeless and vulnerable populations that have so much less than many of us and so much need.

    To maintain these commitments and these investments in the services that citizens have said that they want and need, we will have to raise some additional revenue.  We have to pay for these items but they also go to the long term health of this city.  It’s a delicate balance.  We’re in a very, very tough time.  It requires sacrifice for all of us and before ever getting to the tax issue, what I said is we must make the government more efficient, reduce our own costs in a number of ways, which is what I’m trying to do. We’ve made some cutbacks in some services where we can afford to or services that we may not need as much as we have in the past and only then, still try to fill a $1.4 billion five-year plan hole, did I have to turn to these temporary increases in revenue. It’s a very tough time and I think citizens recognize that.

    DH: You won praise earlier for going to the citizens and eliciting public input and now City Council is much the same. Of course City Council has to be on board with the plan and I’m wondering if it was a mistake to open the budget talks with Council by going after two of council members’ most cherished perks – the city cars and the so-called DROP program?

    MN: Well, what I’ve said is that all of us certainly have to make some measure of sacrifice and we have to be mature enough to be able talk about these major issues. These again are issues that were raised during the eight town hall meetings that we had last year as well as many of the community budget workshops.  Just for the record, I did not make a public issue with regard to the car matter.  I talked to members privately and individually.  I did not say anything publicly about the request that I made so I don’t know where that information came from.  With regard to the DROP program, the members who are in, there’s nothing to be done about that.  They have a legal right to that.  But many future members, members who are not in the program today and many are not even eligible; it is something that citizens have time and time again complained about.

    City Council is a body that can deal with any number of different things going on, but our number one responsibility is not about ourselves as elected officials it is about the public that we are elected to serve and it’s my view that that’s our main responsibility. We’ll get through all these other matters but we need to be true to our oath and look out for the citizens of Philadelphia first.

    DH: Thank you for your time.  Though, Mayor Nutter, you are a Penn grad, before I let you go, can you get behind Villanova.

    MN: Absolutely. Villanova [is] a great school in our region and I am very, very excited about their play through the course of the tournament and I’ll be looking at the game on Saturday, rooting for them and hoping that they take it all.

    DH: And don’t forget the Phillies, their home opener is this weekend as well. Thanks for joining us this morning.

    MN: Absolutely.  Thank you.

    DH: Philadelphia mayor, Michael Nutter.

    Click on the play button below or right click on this link and choose “Save Link As” to download.

    [audio: reports20090401nutter.mp3]

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