Libraries, libraries, libraries

I am concerned and upset about the plan to close library branches. And the current "stealth" moves to reduce service at all 54 branches by implementing rolling/de facto closures.

But. This is not all I am worried about.

Other cuts got made. And it looks like more are on the way. The momentum built by Philadelphians to organize around libraries is impressive. But if the next budget leaves libraries alone, will there be any energy left or interest in fightingfor the rest?

As we move forward, it seems like there are two issues at hand:

1- What other cuts will be made and why?

2- If cuts don't make sense, how do we fight them?

Of course, we can all continue to raise hell. It's a strategy that's been tried in the past and that works to some extent. But as much as Mayor Nutter is on the wrong track regarding libraries, depending on the full extent of next year's budget deficit, something has to give. His strategy so far seems to be to cut, but as Phil Goldmsith points out there is only so much right-sizing left to be done in city government and so many services left to cut.

We'll see what the state and feds do, but the only other alternative to cuts I can think of is raising revenue.

So what are we going to do?

Its going to be tough all the way around

The reason libraries stand out is its the most glaring example of permanent non-reversable cuts. Pools are horrible as well but libraries are lifeline to poor kids fighting for the best educational opportunities they can find in many cases and once those branches are gone they are gone for good. Its about the thinly veiled excercise of a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

I don't have all the answers but I did notice Bukovitz was finally making some noise about unncollected and curiously selectively re-assessed corporate property taxes today.

Singularly unflattering photo by the way.

-Sean
MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

Revenue raising is finally being considered

so says the the inky:

Mayor Nutter is expected to announce today that the city - fresh off $1 billion in painful cuts - must find a way to trim another $1 billion from its five-year spending plan or find a way to increase revenue, according to several sources familiar with the city's fiscal situation.

The latest projections mean that unless he raises revenue through tax hikes or other means, the cratering economy will have forced Nutter to cut about 10 percent from his original five-year spending plan

. Nutter expected the city to spend $20 billion between now and 2014.

BUT...

Though he declined to confirm the latest deficit estimates, Finance Director Rob Dubow said it was fair to compare the fiscal crisis to the challenge Mayor Edward G. Rendell faced when taking office in 1992, when Philadelphia was on the verge of bankruptcy. "In some ways," Dubow said, "it's a bigger challenge. There's a lot of things that have been taken out of the budget since 1992."

Dubow won't confirm the estimate, so again Philadelphians aren't getting a full accounting for their money. And given the way the Mayor has played games with the numbers so far, it is difficult for me to accept anything I'm hearing at face value.

gotta love another closed door budget meeting...

Looks like folks will have their chance

Well, it appears that the news has just come out that the 5-year deficit has grown to $2 billion. At It's Our City, we have details about how the Mayor plans to use citizen input to make decisions about what to cut and/or how to raise revenue.

As far as I can remember (and others with a longer memory can correct this), if this goes according to the plan laid out in the press release, this process will be pretty unprecedented. (At least in this city... other cities like D.C. have used citizen input for budget decisions in the past.) Stay tuned for more details about the meetings and get ready to roll up your sleeves.

Philadelphia budget: SIM city edition

Cool. I hope that this is part of a real commitment to actually incorporate citizen input into the decision-making process, and not just a big 'stand in Nutter's tough shoes' civic education project.

Point of order

To clarify from my earlier comment... The $2 billion number is accurate in that the $1 billion gap that was announced in November still exists since the cuts announced to close it over the next four years haven't happened yet. When the City announced the $1 billion 5-year deficit in November, it went from FY2009-2013 inclusive. They took action with the rebalancing plan to slow tax cuts and cut expenses and closed, according to the rebalancing plan, that $1 billion, 5-year gap from November. This included cutting $108 million from the current fiscal year - FY 2009 - which ends June 30. (And here's the really unfortunate part: according to reporting from this morning's announcement, the current fiscal year has an additional deficit of $47 million that needs to be closed between now and June 30th.)

Anyway, having done that, the city now finds itself with an additional $1 billion deficit for FY10-FY14, inclusive. They haven't taken any steps to balance yet and that's the part that will, in theory, use citizen input and be presented in March.

We're trying over here to figure out the best way to explain all of this. I've also noticed a lot of questions among the commenterati at Philly.com about how it could have gotten $1 billion worse in just a few months. I'm getting the impression that people are either numb to these numbers or they just don't believe the administration because it seems unfathomable that the second billion dollar gap would just appear like that. The simple answer to that seems that economic conditions in general seem to have gotten that much worse just since November, but that's a question that we'll be looking to find a better answer to.

Pension/Stocks

What projections are they using for pension costs? It looks like since the original plan, the stock market went down about 5 percent. OK, that would have an impact, but it is only 5 percent (as opposed to the 35 percent drop from its peak to November).

Are we projecting that the economy will not recover in the next five years?

Now that's more like it

This is a first step, and a great first step. Of course, it remains to be seen whether this is just PR or lip service to inclusionary planning - as we saw with the earlier "Town meetings," it is possible to continue the same bullshit that has been happening under the guise of "civic engagement." But this is very promising.

So, why doesn't our mayor show that he is serious about empowering this type of process in his governing methodology, an forestall any library cutbacks until there is more "civic engagement" on that issue?

It's time to put a land tax on the table

If the current trend continues, the city's fiscal deficit forecasts will continue to expand in 2009. Nutter himself has stated that he recognizes we cannot "cut ourselves out" of the situation, and the prospect of further deficits will bring the cuts closer to even more invaluable public goods and services. We will need to turn to a revenue approach at some point soon. And when that happens, progressives that want to protect the vitality of our essential institutions will need to find an effective way to generate revenue in without further dragging down a collapsing local economy. That solution is a land tax.

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