- Pennsylvania Among 'Terrible 10' Most Regressive Tax States
- February 4 Non-Partisan Training: HOW TO RUN FOR ELECTION BOARD IN 2013: HOW TO RUN FOR COMMITTEEPERSON IN 2014
- Republican Governors Opt-In to Medicaid Expansion
- The Reports of Unions' Death Are Greatly Exaggerated
- Ask Allyson Schwartz to run for Governor
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- Jan. 14 Workshop:HOW TO RUN FOR ELECTION BOARD IN 2013; HOW TO RUN FOR COMMITTEEPERSON IN 2014
- Seth Williams on Guns, Jasmine Rivera on School Closures @PFC Meetup Wednesday
- PA Revenue Strong Midway Through Year; Tax Cut Could Have Big Impact
- What to Make of the Fiscal Cliff Deal?
Bold ideas to fix the budget
A crisis of this magnitude is license to do some serious reinvention of government. It's a time when you can get away with bold thinking, and radical ideas. A few more of those were what we were hoping for.
First, let's be clear: We know how easy it is to be armchair experts, and how hard it is to have to make the decisions. But we also believe the city and its citizens are richer when we can have discussions about these challenges, with many at the table trying to solve the problem. This is a time for us to tough it out together. We hope that during the town-hall meetings the mayor announced yesterday he has a chance to listen as much as to talk.
Meanwhile, "It's Our Money," a project on the budget by the Daily News and WHYY (funded by the William Penn Foundation), has been reaching out to experts and insiders for different approaches to the budget problem. None is a quick fix. None will solve the crisis by itself. One or two might be crazy. But we hope they're added to the mix:
1. Fast-track full valuation. Correcting the city's fractured and unfair property-tax system is as politically appealing as wrestling alligators. But it's crazy and irresponsible not to: Right now, the rich generally underpay and the poor overpay. Correcting the system, discussed for years, is supposed to be revenue-neutral, but it won't be. But it will be fair.
2. While we're at it, raise property taxes. Ours are traditionally low - mainly for reasons having to do with No. 1. We could temporarily raise the tax. Forty percent of any increase would go to helping fill the shortfall. (The schools get the rest.)
3. Close the courts. The city pays $115 million for the First Judicial District even though the state is supposed to pick up the tab. Why shouldn't the mayor just announce that the city has to close the courts because it no longer is able to pay for them? That crisis would no doubt spur quick action in Harrisburg. And even if that action was to punish us with a cut somewhere else in the budget, at least we'd remain whole.
4. Put out bids for every aspect of government.
And include the departments that are providing the service. We don't think privatizing government is the answer. But neither should we assume that all departments are as efficient as possible, nor that the job of government is public employment. The 1 percent cut of 200 workers isn't pretty, but compare it with the rate at which corporations are shedding jobs.
5. Pool health-care plans for public employees.
Benefits for city employees represent one of the largest expenditures by local government. Mayor Nutter is already pursuing the idea of consolidating the four city unions' plans into one, but he could also encourage other public-sector workers - such as SEPTA employees and public-school teachers - to participate in the effort. If it's successful, the idea could be expanded to include major universities and other institutions.
6. Tap our rich corporate citizens for whom we have built stadiums.
If the smart idea for the city to borrow directly from the U.S. treasury doesn't work, why not ask the Eagles - a team that's worth $1 billion - for some low-cost loans?
Find these and other ideas, and contribute your own, at www.ourmoneyphilly.com.