Mayoral Petulance: Unbelievable

On November 4th, Philadelphians said "yes we can" and helped elect Barack Obama. After eight years of everything feeling like it was on the wrong track, we literally danced in the streets when Obama was elected because we thought things would be made right. And there are fairly limitless possibilities post-inauguration. So why then does Mayor Michael Nutter continue to say "no we can't?"

Here is the latest: In the aftermath of a lawsuit against the city over the closure of 11 branch libraries, Mayor Nutter is now threatening to reduce hours at all branches in the system.

Seriously.

Let's review the backstory: Two days after the election, the Mayor announced a mid-year budget crisis. Despite economic trouble that had been brewing for months, the budget he wrote and that Council passed earlier that year was apparently too high. And so the Mayor called for layoffs and service cuts--including library closures, less funds for CCP, firehouse cuts, a halt to business tax reductions, and more. Neither our local print or news media was able to report the scope of the crisis in real dollars or when the so-called crisis would reach a critical point that actually required cuts to prevent financial insolvency.

Many in City Hall found it hard to believe that cuts were required in November or December, less than a quarter of the way through the budget year. But according to the Mayor, the crisis was so severe that about a $100 million had to be cut immediately.

Most cuts did not require Council approval and were made immediately. 50+ Free Library employees were given permanent layoffs notices in early December (some have already stopped working and some still have a week or two left). And library branch closures were announced at 11 branches and eventually December 31st was said to be their last day. Only after all this were town hall meetings called.

Proposed library branch closures were prevented at the eleventh hour with a citizen's lawsuit. The suit cited a provision of the City Charter which prevents the Mayor from permanently closing public facilities without the approval of Council. For now library branches slated to be closed will remain open. But as Marc Stier reported on this blog, ""rolling closures" may now be in store. That means random branches close at random times during the week to save money.

Come on Mayor.

You control a multi-billion dollar budget. The library closures you proposed represent an $8 million annual cost. And your own budget director has said that he now expects a $40 million surplus this year. What gives? The idea of rolling branch closures makes it hard to think you are not being somewhat vindictive.

But the thing is the folks who supported a lawsuit and who fought to keep library branches open are not your political enemies. They are not a part of the old guard that has kept Philadelphia "corrupt and contented." They are not greedy corporate interests.

The people who support libraries, and that you are fighting right now, are your own citizens. They are many of the same people who enthusiastically supported your campaign.

Mayor, it's time to call a truce.

Instead of fighting on library branch closures, you should probably focus your energy on crafting a budget for next year that trims fat. You should also think about cutting corporate tax loopholes and figure out other ways you can generate new revenue. You should keep asking the state and feds for help.

Most importantly, you need to be more clear about priorities in next year's budget. We want our city budget to guarantee basic services but also make investments in the city's future. We want our budget to help us grow the tax base by educating more Philadelphians at CCP. We want more affordable housing and property tax paying homeowners. We want our citizens to go to the library, use a computer and get a job. We want new jobs and business in the city. Investment should be the watchword in next year's budget.

So stop fighting, and start talking about next year's budget. This time, maybe we can discuss not just at townhalls, but through blogs, emails, phone surveys, editorial pages. Basically any way you can think of to connect with Philadelphians. Together, maybe we can come up with a budget we all believe in.

In the meantime, we'll continue to do what we can to organize the people of Philadelphia to forgo our wage tax reduction or talk about other tax options. We are willing to pitch in if we have to. No one wants cuts.

But you have to layoff on libraries. If the issue is one of staffing, well, unlayoff staff. After all you have a surplus now. No matter how you solve it though, the road you are heading down now isn't good for you, it's not good for your citizens and it's not good for our future together.

Say hi to the real Mike Nutter

But the thing is the folks who supported a lawsuit and who fought to keep library branches open are not your political enemies.

No, they were the people who the former bond salesman fooled into supporting him, and they are the people who will end up being his enemies once the scales fall from their eyes.

mithras is right

Mithras is sadly correct.

"You should also think about cutting corporate tax loopholes and figure out other ways you can generate new revenue."

i don't see this happening. i went to the Kingsessing library celebration briefly the evening the injunction came down. There were several speakers, many who spoke eloquently to the idea that cutting services to the poor and making the city a place where only the wealthy can live is no way to have a strong philadelphia. But yet that's exactly what i see, from the refusal to raise issues of corporations that either owe the city back taxes or can afford to give a lot more than to the disdain the Mayor showed to residents at these "town hall" meetings.

Mithras, can you write more about selling bonds?

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