Liberal Policies in Action in Philadelphia

Problems and proposed solutions here are a microcosm of those on the national level

While I was overseas in Poland last month, reading about America’s founding and founders, I kept chuckling every time John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, John Jay or anyone else commented on the summertime heat in Philadelphia. As a guy who needs to take a couple of inches off my waistline, I cannot even imagine what it must have been like wearing a broadcloth suit and being packed into Independence Hall with a bunch of men who, during a summer in the City of Brotherly Love, must have been as smelly as they were brilliant.

Now, while I cannot provide any insight as to how Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter smelled during his press conference today at City Hall, I’ve caught a whiff of his fiscal policy and priorities, and they stink.

It’s no doubt that the City of Nutterly Love faces a budget crisis, so much so that the mayor threatened yesterday to virtually shut down the court system in Philadelphia if the city does not obtain approval from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to increase the sales tax from seven to eight percent and drastically change the way pension payments are made, among other specifics completely halting payments in 2010 and 2011. In late July, he threatened to cut back on public safety–police and fire–and social services if the city’s demands were not met. Even today, a “Plan C” budget submitted by the mayor’s office (in case the demands are not met) called for 1,000 police officers to lose their jobs.

In the introduction to the Fiscal Year 2010 operating budget, the city lays out a series of ambitious goals, yet if anything destroys its own chances of attaining them.

For instance, the city aspires to add 75,000 new residents over the next five to ten years, “[m]ake Philadelphia . . . a leading center of innovation in educational, medical, research institutionsand sustainable technology, ” and “prepare . . . for the next wave of economic development” on the waterfront and at Philadelphia International Airport. Not to mention hopes of creating and retaining jobs. That certainly sounds nice. I’ve often said that Philly boasts the most unused waterfront of nearly any city. But the reality of the city’s fiscal plans doesn’t comport with its goals. Increasing the sales tax by one percent and property taxes by 12 to 16 mills would bring in revenue, yes, but would drive away the very people, businesses, institutions and organizations the mayor and city officials want to bring in. This city is hemorrhaging residents and businesses alike, and for good reason. Continuing the increase in cost of living and cost of doing business would do nothing but hasten their departure.

Next, the city ambitiously states that it would like to “increase high school graduation rate by 50% in 5-7 years” and “[a]ssure that all children are ready to learn by the time of school entry.” At the same time, however, the city plans to reduce staffing, materials and supplies in the Free Library system in order to save $4 million this year and $8 million yearly after that. Something there doesn’t compute. And that doesn’t even take into account the effect upon the lives of children in this city after the city closes half of its public pools.

And, by all means, let’s ensure that “Philadelphia becomes the safest large city in the country.” Let’s “increase the feeling of safety at home, in school, in the neighborhood, at work and at play.” Let’s even aspire to reduce the homicide rate by fifty percent over the next five years. That sounds great. I’ll have that. But at the same time, the city plans to freeze civilian police hiring, halt pension payments for two years and restructure the way that pensions are amortized over the next thirty, and eliminate the reserve dedicated to city-wide wage increases. Not to mention the repeated threats of cutting police and fire personnel and services. That doesn’t make any sense.

Just a cursory look at the general fund budget shows that mural arts in the Managing Director’s office has a $1 million budget. I see $2.3 million going to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, $198,000 to the Atwater Kent Museum, $12 million to the Fairmount Park Commission, $12.7 million for “personal services” for city council (I wonder if that includes free city vehicle use for people making in excess of $110,000 yearly), $47.7 million to fleet management ($4 million for the purchase of new vehicles), $500,000 for mayoral transportation (on top of the $4.3 million going to the mayor’s office), $3.9 million to the Office of Arts & Culture & The Creative Economy, $38 million to the Office of Supportive Housing, and $32 million to the Department of Recreation.

Oh yeah, and $215 million to service the mounting debt.

Of course, many of these services are necessary. After all, to bring people and business into the city, it must be an attractive destination. I’m just saying that it must be able to be done cheaper than it’s being done now. The mayor should go line-by-line through each department’s budget (the city’s budget merely lists “personal services” for each department) and ask “why?”

At the same time, however, he should be thinking about how best to attract new business to the city. Money spent on the burgeoning convention industry here is money well spent. Money spent on the historical and artistic aspects of this great city is also money well spent. But all of it needs to be managed better, and all of it needs to be paired up with measures taken to facilitate growth. Tax breaks, for example. Just like I believe our federal government should be looking for ways for the United States to become a haven for international business and investment instead of shutting down access to those havens overseas, Nutter should look for ways to make Philadelphia irresistible to business rather than acting to push it away.

Philadelphia needs to boost its revenue, and while temporarily hiking sales and property taxes might serve as a tolerable band-aid, it does nothing for the long term, and actually drives away long-term growth. That $215 million in obligations for debt service should be haunting Michael Nutter’s dreams. It’s up from $172 million in 2008 and $199 million in 2009. And, my goodness, think of what he could do with that $215 million. Pools could be kept open, libraries could be stocked, the police force could be augmented. Each of the aforementioned annual budget obligations could be covered, just by money otherwise earmarked for debt service alone. It reminds me of a passage from Glenn Beck’s Common Sense about our national debt, which has exploded under the later years of George W. Bush and the first few months of Barack Obama:

The interest on ONLY our current $11 Trillion debt runs about $26 billion per month or $300 billion per year. “That would fully fund the Departments of Commerce ($8.1 billion), Education ($68 Billion), Housing and Urban Development ($52.3 billion), Housing and Urban Development ($52.3 billion), Energy ($23.2 billion), Justice ($25 billion), and Labor ($49.6 billion) for an entire year.

By 2019, annual interest payments on the national debt will balloon to a projected $806 billion! That $806 billion is more than what it cost us last year to fund the entire Department of Defense ($583 billion), Veterans Affairs ($86.6 billion), the Department of Transportation ($68.7 billion), and the State Department ($18.9 billion)…combined.

See, generally, when I write about the problems facing Philadelphia, I tend to receive e-mails and comments from people across the country wondering why. They don’t live here, they remind me. They don’t work here, they say. And I understand it. But there’s a reason I do so, and what I saw from Michael Nutter today underscores how it isn’t just any one elected official, but rather an entire ideology. Look at Philadelphia, and think about who has been running it. The same goes for Cleveland, Detroit, Flint, and any number of cities floundering under unsustainable, anti-growth, pro-government fiscal policies.

At all levels, we need to get our priorities straight, do what’s hard, and make the necessary cuts and changes so as to make ends meet. But we must never give into temptation to satisfy short-term concerns at the expense of long-term growth. That’s what they’re doing in Philadelphia, and that’s part of the reason why my family will join the exodus from the area already in progress.

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Comments

  1. Rix says:

    There is a perfect solution for ALL problems listed in the post. Unfortunately, the city – as well as the country as a whole – is eternally cursed with testicular weakness to implement it.

    The solution is trivial: KILL ALL HOUSING ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS AT THE ROOT. Shift part of the freed money to augment police force and prosecution and the other part to relocation assistance until all urban trash is locked up, moves elsewhere or starts working. Street safety and school education quality will skyrocket and real estate prices will soon follow, adding to city coffers. Quality population, previously repelled by crime and abysmal school system, will start moving in from suburbia, attracted to culture and entertainment available in metropolitan areas only. That will prop real estate even higher, and so on. Heck, it worked like a charm with Giuliani, didn't it?

  2. Dee says:

    Jeff, Having lived in Pa for most of my life, I can say that in this state there is no such thing as a "temporary tax". We are still paying for the Johnstown Flood that occurred in 1935 through one of the numerous taxes on our alcohol. That town should have streets of gold by now. In Pittsburgh, we voted NO on a tax for a new football stadium. That didn't matter. The government established a 1% "temporary" RAD sales tax tacked on to the then 6% sales tax to help pay for the stadium. We are still paying the now 7% sales tax with no end in sight.

  3. Chuck in San Diego says:

    When it comes to the Federal problems, I found this article of particular significance:

    http://www.econlib.org/library/Columns/y2009/Hummeltbills.html

    Something has got to give. Either the Treasury or the Fed is going to screw up and the whole house of cards is going to come crashing down.

  4. Gail B says:

    Okay–Patriot Heart Network has the press release about the charges of treason against Barack obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, et al. Here's the link, which has a link to the court petition for a Grand Jury Investigation within the story.

  5. Rix says:

    Gail:

    Unfortunately, this petition will follow the same way as lawsuits, petitions and protests before it. The Supreme Court has already proven beyond reasonable doubt that they are mere old humans more interested in averting urban riots (which will undoubtedly follow if Birth Certificate venue is pursued) than protecting the Constitution.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Gail B–

    That petition is the best compilation of material related to the issue that I've seen to date.
    It's really long, but it is really worth the read. I really hope it works.

    Note in the petition the following words, "Plaintiffs have exhausted all remedies prior to bringing this action. This court is that last bastion of redress available to them."

    If this petition fails then it will be clear ALL diplomatic measures will have failed. Everything pursued in all three branches of government have failed. There is simply no where else to go to be heard, leaving only one final path to follow. I would rather that not happen, yet we were forewarned by the Founding Fathers that such a thing would be necessary from time to time for the sake of Liberty.

    Let's really hope this works!

  7. PERSEVERE!!!! says:

    This issue about Natural Born Citizenship status and the eligibility to be President is NOT a fringe issue. It is not mere fodder of the misdirected gullible tin hatter clubbers. The mocks of those who attempt to minimize and/or toss away sincere American voices as those who just have ‘no clue.’ Qualification to serve as President is a SERIOUS Constitutional issue and it is time that “We The People” get the answers in which We are entitled. We have been ignored, mocked, and laughed at by many. We remain undeterred in our determination to move forward.

  8. Courtney says:

    Thanks Gail for that link – found this on there – lol

    Scott Ott's Examiner Scrappleface: Obama marks birthday with Kenya statehood declaration
    By: Scott Ott
    Examiner Columnist
    August 4, 2009

    News fairly unbalanced. We report. You decipher.

    President Barack Obama today celebrated his 48th birthday with a retroactive declaration of statehood for Kenya, his father's homeland and the nation where some skeptics say he was born on August 4, 1961.

    Conspiracy theorists, collectively called 'birthers' by those who trust the president's version of events, say Obama has refused to release his official birth certificate, so no one can be sure that he's a 'natural born' U.S. citizen, or even that he's at least 35 years old and, therefore, Constitutionally qualified for the office.

    By declaring Kenya a U.S. state retroactive to July 1961, the president said he hoped to "put an end to fruitless speculation about my citizenship, which should — by the way — be a private matter between a woman and her obstetrician, or village midwife as the case may be."

    Obama added: "We need to get the nation's focus back on the worst economy since the Great Depression, the 46 million uninsured Americans, and the global warming crisis that threatens our coastal cities with a briny death. More people believe in that stuff than will ever believe that I was born in Mombasa. I was elected to bring about change you can believe in."

    As a citizen of either the 50th or the 51st state, Obama's eligibility for office is now unquestioned. For their part, citizens of Kenya will soon qualify for U.S. government-run health care, as well as a program designed to reduce greenhouse gasses by allowing people to trade in old chickens for more modern, efficient poultry — a pilot project dubbed 'cash for cluckers'.

    Examiner columnist Scott Ott is editor in chief of ScrappleFace.com, the family-friendly news satire site.

  9. SATIRE PEOPLE, READ SLOWLY SHALLIT says:

    (2009-08-14) — Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-TX, who appears in a viral video making a cellphone call at a town hall meeting while a cancer survivor was trying to ask her a question, today explained that she was not being rude to the voters in the room.

    “I didn’t know the answer to the question,” said the lawmaker, “So I decided to use one of my lifelines to ask an expert who had actually read the health care reform bill. As everyone knows, I’m entitled to two lifelines and I only had to use one.”

    Asked about reports that the House member had used ‘her lifeline’ to phone a K Street lobbying firm, Rep. Jackson-Lee said, “If you want to hear from someone who read the bill, why not talk to one of the people who wrote it.”

  10. THERE'S AN APP FOR THAT says:
  11. FAKE COLBS MAKE ME PUKE says:

    Held accountable???? somebody with a Kenyan daddy and a hidden birth certificate, held accountable. ROTFLMAO….. not even held accountable to the three simple 'rules' of the game in the Constitution to get the job….. he has never, and will never know what it means to be held accountable.

  12. Gail B says:

    Rix-

    The State Motto of South Carolina is "While I breathe, I hope."

    We HAVE to have hope, otherwise, we are in despair. I have too much coffee in my cabinet to fall into despair.

    And, I'm still breathing.

    The Exhibits give the proof–all the proof needed–to clear the air and get that illegal alien out of the White House.

    We shall see what happens when the Federal Grand Jury begins its investigation, which I believe will be called and allowed.

    And, if as someone pointed out, this is our last resort to resolve this issue, then all I can say is "Look out, Washington, D.C.!"

    Maybe states will actually leave the Union. We do have State Constitutions.

    I hope it won't come to that; I hope that Obama/Soetoro will simply be declared "invalid." Then we can shake hands with one another (as our Founders did) instead of fist-bumping!

  13. Gail B says:

    This man is the Chief Justice for the District of Columbia. He knows what this is about, and he told Taitz to refile her suit that disappeared from the docket. He said he would hear it.

    This is a petition requesting a Federal Grand Jury to investigate the charges of treason.

    Eighty percent of Americans suspect that Obama/Soetoro is not eligible to be in the White House, so the results of the grand jury investigation should come as no surprise. Many who voted for him are disenchanted with him already and probably would like to get him and his minions out.

    I believe that, if he's NOT taken out by being judged invalid, that there will be some serious action in the streets.

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