Thursday, April 28, 2005

Battle over the budget takes no prisoners

It all started with the discovery that Philadelphia's City Council had been misled about city library funding, and especially about how a new appropriation was being spent, given that Mayor Street had just announced a bunch of closings and restricted hours of neighborhood library branches. Now there appears to be a full-scale war between Council and Mayor (only the latest battle in many years of such recurrent wars) that's spreading blood across the entire proposed budget:
  • City Council is attempting to rescind a bond issue that it had authorized to fund renovation of the central library building.
    Council members said if they had known in December when they agreed to spend the $30 million that the Free Library would in January reduce hours and remove professional librarians at 20 neighborhood branches, they wouldn't have approved the bond issue.
    . . .
    "Why should the Free Library be serving lattes to Center City residents when they are not giving basic services to the people in the neighborhoods?" DiCicco asked.
    The whole Council still has to vote on this, and Street expressed confidence that the bond issue would survive.

  • Street countered the Council's complaints by warning of expected cuts in state funding, which will cause much bigger problems than library resource prioritization.
    The mayor said Council tends to focus on "hot button" issues like library funding, rather than the broader questions of managing the entire city budget, which is the mayor's charge.

    But when it was pointed out that these hot buttons were pushed when he made controversial cuts in libraries, recreation centers, fire stations and museums, Street said that he warned three years ago that the city could not keep doing everything it had been doing and maintain "an aggressive tax-reduction program."
    Unfortunately, large cuts are likely to come in some after-school programs that Street funds via state monies. But, of course, he's pretending that these decisions aren't also about prioritization, here in tax cuts versus spending needs...

  • An Inquirer editorial weighs in, defending some of Street's choices against DiCicco's attacks, specifically in trimming funding for fire departments.
    The Street administration wants to save $7 million by cutting four engine and four ladder companies (not fire houses). That has prompted DiCicco to introduce a bill calling for a referendum that would strip the mayor's office of the power to deploy fire and medical staff and give that authority to Council.
    . . .
    DiCicco's misguided proposals fall into a trap laid by Street, who is trying to to undermine the Council majority in favor of tax reform by cutting city services dear to them and their districts.
    I can only defer to that analysis. For that matter, I can barely keep up with the cross-fire here!

  • Finally, a Daily News editorial claims that Time Magazine didn't go far enough when it tarred Street as a poor mayor, arguing that, in fact, both Philadelphia's mayor and its City Council need a good drubbing. (Of course, the writer has Council aspirations himself.)
A little flak for everybody.


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