Nutter budget has some interesting questions to be answered in hearings

Listen

If there’s a perennial budget headache for this mayor, it’s the needs of the city’s public schools, and this year is no exception.

 

Mayor Nutter presented a $3.8 billion budget proposal to Philadelphia City Council this morning that funds some modest service increases. But the mayor’s plans for school funding and selling the city-owned Philadelphia Gas Works will face political obstacles.

If there’s a perennial budget headache for this mayor, it’s the needs of the city’s public schools, and this year is no exception.

Nutter acknowledges it won’t be easy to convince the state legislature to approve changes he wants to help the city fund the schools. He wants approval of a new city cigarette tax, and he wants lawmakers to re-visit legislation enacted last year extending a one percent increase in the city sales tax beyond its planned expiration in July.

Last year’s sales tax bill sent most of the revenue to the schools. Nutter wants lawmakers to ratify his agreement with City Council leaders to split the extra cash evenly between the schools and the city’s beleaguered pension fund. Can he do all that?

“I’m from West Philly, I don’t believe in insurmountable,” Nutter told reporters in a mid-day session after his budget address. Nutter said the changes he’s seeking in Harrisburg shouldn’t be so difficult.

“I don’t get it. I don’t understand. We’re not asking the commonwealth for anything other than to allow us to do our job here in Philadelphia,” Nutter said.”That’s our fight, we will continue to push.”

“In any parts of the four (legislative) caucuses there is some support for this and this is how I’m going to spend most of the budget season in Harrisburg trying to get both of these issues addressed,” Nutter said.

If he gets the legislative changes he’s seeking, the school district would be left with about $42 million less than the $195 million Schools Superintendent William Hite is expecting from the city. But Nutter said he’ll find a way to meet the district’s needs.

Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez said this will be difficult budget season difficult because many things are coming due.

“This is a year where we have to make a lot of payments, we have to draw the line on what we are going to do with school funding, we have to obviously fund all of these union settlements that have been a long time coming,” Quinones Sanchez said.

The city’s white collar union, AFSCME District Council 47, recently reached a new contract with the city. The blue-collar union, District Council 33 remains at a four-year impasse with the administration, but the parties have recently held negotiations.

Council President Darrell Clarke is wary of the mayor’s plan to sell the city-owned gas works and put proceeds in the pension fund. He said the budget that the mayor presents is never exactly what comes from the hearing process.

“I’m sure there will be some things that are tweaked,” Clarke told reporters. “There is a component, a provision in the budget that accounts for a significant increase that to pension payments obviously hasn’t materialized and only would materialize only if there is a sale of PGW, and even if that were the case, I’m not sure that is an accurate number.”

Many council are wary about selling PGW, but Nutter said once they see the numbers behind the sale, he thinks they will agree.

The mayor also apologized for cutting one day a week from library hours and said his spending plan will restore that. He says it was something he had to do in hard times.

“It’s been on my mind for the last five years, this has troubled me for a long time,” Nutter told reporters. “It is absolutely the worst decision I have made in the time I have been in public office.”

The budget will be debated in weeks of hearings before a final spending plan comes together sometime in June.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.