city budget

The Library in the City: a Panel Discussion

In conjunction with the release of a new report, Pew’s Philadelphia Research Initiative (of which I am a part) is hosting a panel discussion this Wednesday night on the role of the Free Library of Philadelphia and other big-city libraries in the 21st century. YPP favorite Irv Ackelsberg is among the featured guests.

In the face of increasing and changing demands brought on by the recession and the Internet, public libraries across the country are facing the same questions about their future: where should they focus energy and funds? How will they handle their evolving role as a key provider of social services and government resources? Will this changing role alter the way local officials, who provide a majority of library funding, view the library?

The panel discussion will explore these and other issues discussed in the report. Mayor Michael A. Nutter will give remarks, and WHYY’s Dave Davies will moderate. Panelists include the Honorable James R. Roebuck, Jr., member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives; Michael DiBerardinis, deputy mayor for Environmental and Community Resources and special advisor to the mayor on the Free Library of Philadelphia; Irv Ackelsberg, president of the Friends of the Free Library of Philadelphia; Siobhan Reardon, president and director of the Free Library of Philadelphia; and Thomas Galante, president and CEO of the Queens Borough Public Library.

The event is Wednesday, March 14 at 6 p.m. at Parkway Central Library, 1901 Vine Street. It is free and open to the public, but pre-registration is recommended.
Visit www.pewtrusts.org/libraryevent to register.
Read the report here.

Guv sez: Drop Dead, Mayor sez: Keep smilin'

Sub-Headline: Sorry, Can’t Really Sugarcoat This Stuff Folks.

There’s no doubt that Philly’s in a heap of trouble from budgets being torturously made, as we speak, in Washington, Harrisburg and Philadelphia. It seems we’re assured of two years of bad news, first from service cuts, then from tax increases on working people and homeowners. With a little bit of bad luck we could face a mix of both. The moral? We’d better organize ourselves a lot better than we did in 2010 if we don’t want a third and fourth year helping of the same thing. And also, if you pass a corporate exec in the street, keep your hands in your pockets.

Rally tomorrow to Reform the BPT, raise $75 million for the City

Tomorrow morning, at 9 AM, something really important will happen outside City Council Chambers on the fourth floor of City Hall. That’s when the Coalition for Essential City Services (CES) will hold a press conference and rally to unveil a sweeping reform of the Business Privilege Tax (BPT), in particular, a complete revamping of the gross receipts (GRT) portion of the Tax.

The GRT has been successfully demonized in Philadelphia over the past 20 years, and has been directed toward extinction. It has already been cut from a high of 3.9 mills in 1988 to 1.4 mills this year, a cut of nearly 2/3. Starting in 1996 it was cut every single year through 2008. It is scheduled to decline again in 2013 and go away completely in 2022.

The rationale for killing the GRT has been twofold:

  1. It falls particularly heavily on small businesses because it taxes the first dollar of receipts whether or not a company is profitable; and
  2. It drives companies out of Philadelphia in order to evade the tax.

The first argument may not be totally without merit. So the CES proposal would exclude all businesses with receipts under $500,000 from the tax. We have discovered that these businesses, 85% of all the businesses paying the tax, account together for only about $8 million of the money the GRT raises. If we structure the GRT correctly, we can do without this money and any burden it puts on small business.

The second argument is largely false. The GRT is paid on all receipts from sales made into the City. Businesses outside the City pay close to 40% of the GRT because they pay the tax on all their sales into the City wherever they are. That’s right, whether you’re located in the City or in Nebraska, if you sell services or goods into Philadelphia, you pay the GRT on your Philadelphia receipts. Obviously those businesses that are outside the City cannot be driven out because THEY’RE ALREADY NOT HERE. And businesses in the City would have to give up all or much of their City business to evade the tax by moving.

So here’s the final reason why businesses will not move due to an increase in the GRT. The tax is little more than a nuisance to large businesses. I said earlier that at its height, the tax was levied at a rate of 3.9 mills. A mill is .001, that is one tenth of one percent. So a rate of 3.9 mills would result in a tax of $3,900 on receipts of $1,000,000. The current rate of 1.415 mills results in a tax bill of $1,415 on that cool million of receipts. And all of that is deductible from federal business taxes.

The CES proposal would take the tax back to where it was in 1996, at 3 mills, almost 25% under its 1988 maximum rate. That rollback from the current rate would cost a million dollar business about $1,600 extra in federally deductible dollars. For that nuisance increase, the City would net $83 million. If the City excluded all small businesses with receipts of less than $500,000 from the tax, it would still bring in $75 million. And that’s the CES proposal.

Of course, in evaluating any proposal, one must consider the alternatives. Should we raise $75 million from a trash transfer fee? A soda tax? A general property tax increase? Should we cut the City budget by $75 million? Now that we’ve finished patting ourselves on the back about how we saved the libraries for a year, should we let them go?

Personally I don’t like any of these alternatives to one that will take 70,000 small businesses out of the GRT and, with little pain to anyone, bring in $75 million. If you agree, please join CES at its rally tomorrow at City Hall. For more info on the rally and the CES proposal, please go to the new CES website and/or to the Neighborhood Networks website. And if you'd like to check out the Facebook page about the rally, and let us know you're coming, please go here.

Closing Your Eyes Won't Help: 15 Days Later, A Demand to See Plan B (and to Discuss It)

On June 23, the Daily News editorial "We want the bad news too" requested details from the Nutter administration regarding its infamous "Plan B" budget that would take effect if the State failed to okay the City's proposed sales tax increase.

Fifteen days later, Harrisburg has yet to act, and the "Plan B" option -- described by sources in and out of City Hall as "apocalyptic" -- looms ever closer to reality. And still we know nothing more about the apparently services-blasting details.

Worse: unless I missed it, during the intervening days, there's been no echoing call from City Council, or anywhere else in government, to make Plan B public.

Well, it's time to make the Daily News' original request a demand.

As Ben Waxman's column rightly states, "It's Our Money" too, so we demand that Mayor Nutter lets us know how it's going to be spent, or not spent.

We demand to see Plan B.

Bill Green Budget Talk, D.A. Candidates & More @ PFC Meetup TONIGHT

You want an independent view of the city budget and ideas on going forward from one of City Hall's newest and most vocal Councilpeople?

You want to hear about the year's hottest political race from the candidates themselves?

You want to hear about bridging the digital divide from one of the top organizers on the issue?

You want to talk about the latest in the casinos saga and brainstorm about the Daily News?

You want a shot and a PBR for $3? (You may need it.)

Then do what Bill Green, Seth Williams, Dan McElhatton, Dan McCaffery (confirmed thus far), Todd Wolfson, and I, among others, are doing.

Come on down to Philly For Change Meetup @ Tritone, 1508 South Street (wheelchair accessible) tonight at 7:00.

No flowers grow: Is beauty necessary?

Amid the calls for cuts and tax hikes, as Philly grapples with the latest budget monster, one story less reported is the plight of dedicated city employees who came into work this week and found out that another 10%, 20%, or even 30% may be excised from their already depleted budgets.

Workers who barely dodged a budget axe two months ago now face an even grimmer reaper with a scythe shaped liked a question mark, as their fates are argued in public at city budget forums. City managers have to figure out how to operate necessary programs for a city of a million and half, on a fraction of what their operating budgets were just three months ago, programs that may have been under-funded before the crisis hit.

Which leads to a relevant question: is beauty necessary?

A friend who works for Fairmount Park -- still the largest green city park in the U.S. -- forwarded the following handout that was circulated to staff, and which he assures me is a public document.

No Cuts to Essential Services!

The Coalition to Save the Libraries, Neighborhood Networks, and a growing coalition of community groups and labor unions are coming together to demand no cuts to essential services.

We believe that by creating a tax system where everyone pays their fare share we can avoid cuts to libraries, rec centers, fire stations, and other essential services.

The attached flyer has our demands and a menu of options to raise revenue without putting the burden on the backs of poor and working Philadelphians or small businesses.

We are encouraging labor unions and community groups to sign on and individuals to call their city council people.

This is an opportunity for all of us to come together and influence how this financial crisis gets addressed. One option is to slash crucial services. Another option is create temporary tax increases for those who can afford to pay more.

Philly Budget Debate @ PFC Meetup Wednesday Night

Bad news, good news, friends.

Bad: Councilman Bill Green has had to reschedule his budget talk until March Philly For Change Meetup.

Good: In its place, PFC is pleased to host

A DEBATE ON PHILLY'S BUDGET & TAXES

One Philadelphia's (and YPP's) Stan Shapiro and Philadelphia Forward's Brett Mandel have graciously agreed to debate and answer questions about the best methods for dealing with the city's budget crisis.

Bring your good questions, your good ideas, and (seriously, people) your good behavior, but otherwise:

Let's Heat Up a February Night!

Also on the bill: Lauren Townsend on unlocking condoms and Judge Angeles Roca on our criminal justice system.

PHILLY FOR CHANGE FEBRUARY MEETUP is Wednesday February 4 at 7:00 at Tritone, 1508 South Street (wheelchair accessible).

PS: Don't forget to crush your empty PBR if you want another Special.

Why Philadelphia can't afford casinos - and neither can PA

With President-elect Obama in town to figure out how to solve the nation’s budget crisis, here’s one suggestion: stop state-sponsored gambling.

There’s no question that this industry - whose proponents once crowed had a "license to print money" - has lost its lustre. With the economy in a tailspin, casinos don’t just drag their own industry down, they bring city budgets and people with them:

Consider:

  • The City of New Haven has to fix a $500,000 budget hole after overly rosy gambling revenue projections didn’t meet their mark this year.
  • In July, the Natl. Conference of State Legislatures reported that specific conditions have dramatically impacted state budgets, noting that Nevada is particularly worried about gambling and its impact on state revenues.
  • Last year's PICA report warned that the city put itself at "financial risk" by not calculating the cost of casinos. They referred to sources which showed a range of costs of up to $200 million annually from gambling and the potential for net job losses based on employment studies from different states with gambling.

Faced with these concerns, what’s been the solution in other states?

More gambling of course – and don’t forget the booze and girls.

  • Twin River, RI is begging for table games to save the bankrupt slots house.
  • Foxwoods itself is seeking 24-hour alcohol service at its Connecticut casino to remain competitive. "You gotta be kidding me," said one local official in outrage.
  • But my favorite story is outta A.C.:

    "On Dec. 13, the casino will host the Running of The Santas, part of a nationwide bar tour in which participants don Santa hats, beards and suits, and do their own version of Pamplona's running of the bulls. Only at the head of this race will be Hooters girls."

    Yep. The running of the bulls only with creepy old men chasing down Hooter girls. Because it sounds fun. And oh yeah, it makes the casino money.

    "The holidays tend to have many businesses competing for customer attention," said Mark Giannantonio, president of the Tropicana Casino and Resort. "The light show, in addition to our decor, shopping, entertainment and focus on our guests throughout the season ... ultimately will give people a reason to choose Tropicana."

There’s always a sucker a minute when it comes to easy cash.

Just listen to Fishtown’s Maggie O’Brien, who commented about the recent inking of a $1.5 million deal between Sugarhouse and a group that formed ad hoc to negotiate a community benefits agreement (since no other established neighborhood association would):

And - be still, fibrillating hearts - up to $1.5 million a year to fund stuff that the community decides could use the dough.

Like a library, maybe? Or a swimming pool? Fire services? All are Fishtown amenities slated for closure.

"With $1.5 million, we could buy the library and run it ourselves," says Maggie O'Brien, president of Fishtown Action (FACT), a pro-casino neighborhood group that has co-signed the CBA (along with the New Kensington CDC). "We could keep the pool and firehouse."

She exhales angrily.

"It didn't have to come to this. If the casino was up and running, we might not be losing anything right now."

Fishtown deserves every bit of concern with all the closures in their community while a slots house tries to open up down the street. But beyond that, there’s nothing in O’Brien’s comments that are backed by economic or historical reality. In fact, an increasing number of studies show that just the opposite may be true – that gambling is a net loser for society rather than a win.

This Thursday: From Dollars to Delivery, Philadelphia's Budget and 5 Year Plan

Mike Nutter is one cool guy, right? I mean who else has ?uestlove spinning at their inauguration, Ed Rendell? John Street? Me thinks not.

But alas, it is not his great taste in DJ's or ability to rock the mic that is the essence of Mayor Nutter's cool. It is the fact that he gets it: he gets that government is supposed to work for the people (sounds like such a novel idea in this day and age, eh?). In the spirit of continuing to give power to the people the new administration, Great Expectations and Young Involved Philadelphia are partnering to provide young Philadelphians with a forum to share their ideas, ask tough questions, and demand excellence from their government. The administration will use the input from this forum to directly inform the performance standards and expectations set up for city departments.

A City That Works

An interactive forum on the relationship between our city's budget and the commitments of the new administration

The $4 billion budget is approved, but it will take more than money to set our city straight. Where does the money go and when can we expect to see results?

FACILITATED BY:
* Steve Agostini, Philadelphia's new Budget Director
* Chris Satullo, former editoral page editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer & founder of the paper's Citizen Voices program
* Claire Robertson-Kraft, YIP Board Member & Civic Education Committee chair

WHEN: This Thursday, May 29th at 6PM
WHERE: Philadelphia Inquirer Office, 400 N. Broad St.
WHO: Free and open to the public, email YIPCivicEd@gmail.com to learn more

Process matters

City Council deliberates on the Mayor's proposed budget every year in a tedious, but important, hearing process that stretches out over two months. This year's hearings begin on Tuesday, February 26 with a look at the proposed Five Year Plan. On Wednesday, Council will take up the tax bills that have been introduced, including the proposed changes in the BPT and the wage tax. The following week there will be a hearing on the capital budget. After that, each week for the following six weeks (with a one week break) all the City Departments will appear, one after the other, to make their cases for whatever it is that the Mayor wants for these Departments. The last of the scheduled hearings is to take place April 15. Two weeks later it will be the turn of the School District, whose leaders will testify on April 28 and 29.

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