Workshops complete, citizens wonder what’s next?

    Over 1800 people participated in a series of community budget forums that wrapped up this week. The forums have brought people out to comment on what the city should spend their money on and what they would be willing to live without. WHYY’s Elizabeth Fiedler reports.

    Over 1800 people participated in a series of community budget forums that wrapped up this week. The forums have brought people out to comment on what the city should spend their money on and what they would be willing to live without. WHYY’s Elizabeth Fiedler reports.

    Transcript:
    Drastic times call for drastic measures.

    University of Pennsylvania Political Science professor Don Kettl: “The economic issues that were facing are causing everyone to spend time thinking about what kind of government they want, and what kind of government they expect and what kind of government they can in fact afford. The economic crisis is undoubtedly adding to citizen interest in the economy and civic issues more generally.”

    The budget forum at Pinn Memorial Baptist Church in West Philadelphia is a perfect example. Hundreds of people came to give their say on how the city should address its budget problems.

    Anthony Alexander says the forum was the first time he has given his opinion on how the city operates in a long time. Alexander is originally from West Philadelphia. He was released from prison in 2006 after 17 years. He now lives at a shelter in West Philly.

    Alexander: “A whole lot of us came here tonight from the shelter. They’re in different rooms. We were just happy to come down here and hope we all can voice our opinions.”

    Alexander says shelters serve a vital function for people like him who have nowhere else to go. He says he came to tell officials that crime will go up if they cut funding for shelters or for the vocational programs at prisons.

    Atiya Sistrunk says potential cuts to city services brought her to the forum. The Mt. Airy native works with children who have behavioral and emotional problems. Sistrunk says she attended the forum for herself and her 6-month-old son Ravon.

    Sistrunk: “This is my first community meeting that I have come to. Because of the program that I work with with my job I want to make sure that’s definitely not cut. And because of me having a child now – a lot more is important to me than it was before. I see his future.”

    Sistrunk says she’d support tax increases if it would help keep libraries and pools open so her son can use them when he’s older.

    Funding for youth programs also brought Wayne Mallory and his wife to the forum.

    Mallory is originally from Philadelphia and just moved back a year ago. Since returning, Mallory says he’s been more interested in city government, so he decided to get involved for the first time.

    Mallory: “The bottom line is once it’s all over is something going to be done when they’re heard our ideas are they taking them seriously? And that is just a major question – are they or aren’t they?”

    Don Kettl: “When people make the effort to say what they want and if policymakers don’t follow what they want, people are inevitably disappointed.”

    Political Science professor Kettl says that while the forums may have helped people understand the budget options, they may not be fully prepared for the decisions the Mayor will have to make.

    Kettl says right now citizen interest is high because of the economic crisis and the Obama Administration’s push to get people involved in politics.

    Kettl: “So there’s a real paradox here: the discouraging news about the economy and the hopeful news about the Obama administration and the way that they both come together to try to encourage people to express their views about what it is we ought to be doing about the city budget, the state budget, and the national budget.”

    Mayor Nutter will deliver his budget address on March 19th. After that, the public can give even more input on the budget at City Council hearings.

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

    [audio: reports20090225workshops.mp3]

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