Weekly Press: Philly’s “Free” papers grill Nutter on Budget

Weekly Press: Philly’s “Free” papers grill Nutter on Budget

In the spate of negative press, Mayor Michael Nutter, invited reporters from the city’s weekly newspapers like the City Paper, The Fallser, The Public Record and the University Review/Weekly Press to a sit down in his office last Wednesday, April 7th.

The Mayor’s objective? To outline the factors that led to drafting the two bills pending in City Council, which if passed, will close the $120 million deficit for the fiscal year 2011 said Mayor Nutter. They include: “Keep Philadelphia Clean” and the “Healthy Philadelphia Initiative.”

For example, by charging property owners an additional $300 a year under the “Keep Philadelphia Clean” initiative, more commonly referred to as the “Trash Tax,” the city will be able to generate an additional $108 million annually, explained Nutter. As for the Healthy Philadelphia Initiative, AKA, the “Sweet Tax,” which would charge retailers two cents per ounce tax on their annual sales volume of sugar-sweetened beverages that will add up to another $77.2 million per year, Nutter added.

While the tone of the meeting remained polite and cordial, some of the reporters in attendance questioned the logic of raising certain services when Philadelphians are already suffering under the choke of a strained economy.

“Landlords will raise rents,” said Julie Camburn, the Fallser’s Editor in response to the trash tax.

City Paper reporter Isaiah Thompson wondered how the sweet tax would affect both retailers and suppliers of sugary beverages.

And the Public Record’s Editor, Jimmy Tayoun, wondered what would happen if those two bills didn’t pass in City Council.

If they don’t pass, said Nutter, than more city employees would be laid off. The city, continued Nutter, has already had to lay off 1,200 employees to close the 2.4 billion-budget gaps for fiscal years 2009-2014. According to Nutter, “More cuts leads to more cuts in service.” And in the conversations the Mayor has had with residents, the last thing they want is more cuts in service.

That said, Nutter then pointed out that many services, like the city’s libraries and health centers have been stabilized. This summer 69 out of its 72 will be open.

As for addressing concerns about the “Sweet Tax,” the Mayor first explained, an additional two percent tax is not added on to the customers’ purchase but as a separate tax the retailer pays through Business Privilege Taxes at the end of the year. The city, continued Nutter, does not have the authority to raise the sale tax on its own. “We already spent five months going down that road last year,” said Nutter in reference to how Philadelphia’s request to raise its sales tax by one percent caused additional debate when the state struggled to finalize its budget last year.

As for the companies that say they will go out of business if the “Sweet Tax” is implemented, “they make plenty of other healthy substitute beverages,” said the Mayor adding that their contention that this tax would impact them any significant way, “is just hysteria.”

“There is not a Doctor in this Universe who will tell you that soda has any nutritional value,” Nutter continued, adding that as of 2008, “64% of all adults and 57% of all kids in Philadelphia are overweight or obese.”

Beginning in July 2011, the city will spend $20 million of the proceeds garnered from the “Sweet Tax” to promote healthy eating and physical activity, explained Nutter. This will include: Increasing the value of food stamps when they are used to purchase healthy foods; establishing affordable farmers’ markets in low-income communities; expanding a network of corner stores that offer healthy foods and produce as well as improving the quality of food in schools and after school settings.

Like the Sweet Tax, the benefits of the Trash Tax will also be two fold in that will provide the funding for leaf removals as well as to citywide cleaning crews, which have been reduced in recent years. If passed this fee will be implemented by July of 2010. Low income may also be able to receive a $100 credit. The Streets Department has also implemented the Philadelphia Recycling Rewards Program that would allow residents to earn $100-$400 a year in savings for recycling.

For further details on the Recycling Rewards Program, visit: www.philadelphiastreets.com.

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.