Tight Times, Tough Choices -- St. Dominic's School (2/12/09 -- part ii)

In small working groups, citizens reviewed list of budget cuts and revenue options the PPCE constructed from the city’s budget scenarios. Working first as individuals, then as a group, citizens prioritized ways to close the budget gap by placing them into four "buckets" — Low-Hanging Fruit, No Ways No Hows, Shared Pain, and Gut Wrenchers. “Low-Hanging Fruit” means those options that are immediate "winners", that generate a quick consensus. “No Ways No Hows” represent the immediate "losers", or those choices citizens believe to be off the table. “The Shared Pain” bucket contains those options that are unpleasant and unpopular, but that they feel would be acceptable. “Gut Wrenchers” are those choices that no one wants to make but they recognize as what needs to be done to help the city as a whole.

Below you will find links to each group's moderator report, which includes the four buckets and the discussion that led citizens to make those choices, as well as memorable quotes or creative ideas that came up during the process.

Group 7 Group 8 Group 9 Group 10 Group 11 Group M

 

Groups 1-6


Group 7

Moderators: Franne McNeal and Carol Lydon

Group overview:

The group of 18 people entered the room with questions about why points were high or low on specific services, and one individual in particular questioned the validity of the process. "It was fixed; our voices don't matter; these numbers are wrong." The diversity based on neighborhoods was not clear, but the perspectives included people who worked for the police, fire, streets and parks departments. Individuals also worked in the arts, health sector, schools, nonprofits, advocacy organizations, schools as well as retirees. All individuals were tax payers, and some lived outside of the City of Philadelphia. Observers included press (NY Times, Daily News, Inquirer, and WHYY) and an official city representative. Visitors included other city officials and press. Four people completed dissenting worksheets. The group identified 26.5 points in the "low hanging fruit" and "shared pain" buckets.

Note: The group was initially resistant to the process. They had not reviewed the work sheet during the registration process, so they were unaware of the goals of the 100 points, the concept of the buckets, and the reasoning behind quickly surveying/prioritizing for "low-hanging fruit" and "no way no how" items. As a result they wanted to discuss/make their point on issues and were suspicious of why there was a need to "quickly" move on. As the evening went on, trust developed in the group, the individuals came together as a group, recognized that the bulk of the discussion would be on the "shared pain" items, and saw the value of naming pro/cons and clarifying statements as well as suggesting creative ideas and our modifying points for specific items.

Low Hanging Fruit:

Three items that made the list, with 75 percent of the group vote, for a total 10 points.

  • No. 16 Vehicle Fleet - reduce budget by 20 percent, 6 points
  • No. 26 Eagles (revenue action), 2 points
  • No. 17 Amusement (revenue = ticket tax), 2 points
No Way, No How:

Two items that made the list, with 75 percent of group vote, for a total 72 points.

  • No. 5 Fire - reduce budget by 10 percent, 20 points
    • Reducing the Fire budget by any amount was discussed strongly by one person.
  • No. 11 Police - reduce budget by 20 percent, 52 points
    • Reducing the Police budget by any amount was discusses strongly by two people. Pro quotes: "With the economy, there will be more crime, we need more police."

Discussion where 75 percent of vote was NOT obtained:

  • No. 13 Public Health (reducing budget by any amount) was discussed strongly by three people.
    • Pro quote: "Public health services prevent expensive emergencies, help reduce costs early, and help prevent long-term illnesses, which are expensive to treat."
    • Pro quote: "86,000 people, $334 co-patient visits in 2008, 5.55 in first six months of patient visits."
    • Con quote: "Not want people to suffer, but need folks to bite the bullet."
    • Con quote: "The city will get money from the economic stimulus that may offset this issue."
Issues brought up:
  • Where is funding for mural arts program?
  • Revenue generation idea: Raise fines for CLIP and anti-graffiti?
Shared Pain:

Three items that made the list, with 51 percent of group vote, for a total of 16.5 points.

  • No. 13 Public Health (modified, reduce budget by 10 percent), 2.5 points
  • No. 13, Public Health (revenue = co-pays), 1 points
  • No. 15 Streets (revenue = "pay-as-you-throw"), 13 points
    • Pro quote: "People pay for trash all around the world. It is a reasonable fee."
    • Pro quote: "I will not vote for both (No. 25 Wage Tax and No. 15 Streets), so I would choose No. 15 because it generates $ in a way that does not drive out business or residents."
    • Con quote: "Slippery slope, don't want to go there. What else will we be charged for?"
    • Con quote: "If we do it, it will increase illegal dumping, which will increase costs and health/safety issues."
    • Con quote: "Is this a charter issue? Is it legal to charge?"
    • Con quote: "What are the costs to administer the program and has that been considered against the ‘revenue'?"
    • General: "Renters do pay for services, via landlord, who pays property tax and then passes taxes on in the rent."
    • Discussion where 51 percent of vote was NOT obtained:
  • No. 1 Administrative (reduce budgets, 5 points) -> vote 20 percent
    • Pro quote: "Must cut "helpers" salaries." There is a lot of waste and fat in those budgets and not enough accountability."
  • No. 3 DROP program (end early pension payments, 4 points) -> vote 20 percent
    • Pro quote: "Why are elected officials included? They should not be. They are ruining the program. They "retire," keep the $, and then come back in another job."
    • Con quote: "City workers need this program. They don't abuse it. They wouldn't save it otherwise. It is a saving plan of 4 percent and the city actually makes money 5 percent. Max of 4 years."
  • No. 21 Parking (revenue action = tax, 2 points) -> vote 20 percent
  • No. 25 Wage/Resident Tax (increase .01%, 1 point) -> vote 20 percent
    • Con quote: "Ten percent may be a reasonable cut, but based on economy, would not risk businesses."
Creative ideas:
  • Be more transparent and specific (give names, amounts, reasons, actions being taken to pursue money, challenges) about the list of "past due" and money owed to city. Stop saying, "Well, we will look in to it," or "We are looking in to it." Need a specific timetable for accountability and exports.
  • Tax Abatement, stop now. Go after the state. (Do understand that this is a long-term issue, but frustrated that it is a long-time issue.)
  • Court and prison system. Go after those funds. (Do understand that this is a long-term issue, but frustrated that it is a long-time issue.)
Question to city official:

Q. What about a collection agency for uncollected real estate taxes => in general and for nonprofits (hospitals, etc)?
A: Being researched but is a "long-term" issue. Some agencies (PGW = semi autonomous), Water Dept = city agency. Charter issues are involved. Legal issues are involved. May be difficult to collect if debt written off (because of length of past due).

Gut Wrenchers:

Did not officially complete this section because we ran out of time. However, note that No. 21, No. 1, and No. 3 were discussed in shared pain but did not make that list; so those items may have been reintroduced as part of the "gut wrencher" discussion.

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Group 8

Moderators: Elizabeth Perry and Pyser

Group Overview:

When the session ended, one member of the group was heard telling some friends out in the hall that "We were the 12 angry men! But we got the job done!" And they (12 men and 8 women, not really that angry) did - for a total of 99 points on the thermometer.

The group - mostly white (one black woman, one Asian man); 40 percent younger than 40, and 40 percent older than 55, with the rest in between in age - came together in what really was a gratifyingly cooperative frame of mind. There were complaints of being confined to a box by the PPCE deliberative process, and people's comments did pile up on top of one another from time to time. (This moderator found herself calling for quiet at one point in a surprisingly loud tone of voice...) Nonetheless, the mood was positive, and there was a commitment to seeing the exercise through to completion. (Hire these people!) Most participants were from nearby neighborhoods (Wissinoming, Academy Gardens), with one person each coming from Chestnut Hill, Mount Airy, and a nearby suburb. At the end of the session, following the considerable tension of pushing through votes to meet the time deadline, several participants surprisingly (to this moderator) expressed gratitude and some pleasure in the work we had done. There were no dissenting work sheets submitted.

Low Hanging Fruit:
  • Vehicle fleet reductions (No. 16); collecting from the Eagles (No. 20); reducing Administrative budgets and raising recording fees (No. 1 and No. 1); and increasing parking garage fees (No. 21) made the grade here for a total of 16 points.
  • DROP (No. 3), law (No. 9), prisons (No. 12), sales (No. 24), and streets (No. 15) fell short of the needed votes.
  • People wanted unnecessary services cut (vehicle privileges) and appropriate fees collected (Eagles, administrative recording fees), but they resisted cuts that had resulting costs. (Prison cuts would lead to more crime; law cuts would lead to the city losing court judgments; sales tax raises would lead to purchases outside the city.)

Note: There was a question raised about the $8 million from the Eagles only getting 2 points....

No Way, No How:
  • Police and Fire Department cuts went on this ‘don't touch' list very quickly.
  • Police response time was already deemed too slow, and the city murder rate too high. The Fire Department had already faced cuts in the previous budget go-round.
  • Public Health went on the NWNH list after one woman told how she, as a 13-year-old, had lost her mother to a treatable disease because her mother could not afford to go to the hospital for treatment. (This prompted heated discussion about health-care issues for some moments until the moderator expressed sorrow at the loss of a mother, and noted that, although the health-care system was undeniably in crisis, the only issue we could have a voice on here was the city public health services.)
  • Streets Department cuts and BPT increases did not make this ‘don't touch' list. People could imagine reducing the Streets Department, and they did not like the chilling effect of BPT increases on business life in the city.
Shared Pain:
  • "Pay-as-you-throw" (No. 15) got support here as revenue for the Streets Department — with a suggestion that we even pay people to recycle (because it would create revenue for the city).
  • Real Estate Transfer Tax (No. 23, for 2 mills) got support with the reasoning that the national stimulus package would help revive the housing market, and people who could afford houses could pay this tax. A dissenting view saw people facing desperate housing foreclosures — so there was no proposal for real estate tax increases (No. 22).
  • Amusement tax increase (No. 17) went on this list — "People who will go to a movie will go to a movie (sports event, concert)."
  • The Law Department cut went through with a suggestion that we end retainers for lawyers and make them consultants.
  • Resident wage tax increases did not make this list because residents would then leave the city.
  • Recreation did not make this list, even though people thought there might be some deadweight in that budget. Kids need a place to go to, and they should not end up in prison or on drugs.
Gut Wrenchers:

The pressure of time and the possibility of hitting 100 on the thermometer (we hit 99) curtailed extensive comments in this section.

Resident wage tax increase (No. 25), courts (No. 2), DROP (No. 3), prisons (No.12, for 10 points), Streets (No. 15, for 10 points), real estate tax increase (No. 22, for 2 mills), and sales tax increase (No. 24) made the final cut.

Prisons got the bulk of the discussion in this section.

Suggestions: "Get rid of the TVs." "Have them build solar panels and windmills." "Put them to work." One woman with work experience with the prison food service suggested that the prisoners ate better than people in this meeting room. There was also a sense that prisoners released would mean more crime and then a rebound back to prison. (So what money would be saved really?)

Other Ideas:
  • City Council car privileges got special mention as ripe for cuts (even though that item is in a separate budget).
  • Reducing the mayor's entourage of "smart people." Get professors as consultants to replace mayor's advisers. Quote: "Didn't "smart people" get us into this Wall Street mess in the first place?"
  • What about a lottery for the city? ($20 (or more) tickets?)
  • Pay residents for recycling (income generated for the city).
  • Amnesty for Business Privilege Tax: No interest or penalty to be paid, just pay the tax itself.
  • DROP program: How can we stop people from retiring for a day and then returning to work for additional pay?
  • Get DROP money already distributed to politicians (and others) returned to the city.
  • Libraries - Recruit volunteers?
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Group 9

Moderators: George Coley, Ellen Peterson and Adrian Sagan

Group Overview:

On Thursday, Feb. 12, 2009, community members attended the Penn Project for Civic Engagement's public deliberation titled, "The City Budget: Tight Times, Tough Choices" at Saint Dominic's Church. Group 9 consisted of 17 participants, which included seven women and 10 men. One male left early allowing for 16 people to participate in the entire process. One African American female and two African American males participated in the process. During the deliberation, eight people offered a regional description of where they reside: three individuals from North Philadelphia, three individuals from Northeast Philadelphia, and two individuals from South Philadelphia.

The group's mood, overall, can be described as positive. Participants followed the ground rules fully, were capable of listening to people's views, and were willing to work together. Although there were identified Interest Groups in attendance at the forum, a person's commitment to a specific issue did not openly affect Group 9's ability to collaborate. One individual identified himself as working for a Community Development Corporation, one woman was identified as working in Human Services, one woman is engaged to a police officer. Also, an uncaptured number (approximately two to three) were involved in education and two people were advocates of Philadelphia's homeless population. There were no individual dissenting work sheets filed with the moderators at the end of the deliberation.

Low Hanging Fruit:

This group identified four services to be placed in the category of "Low Hanging Fruit," totaling 12 points:

  • No. 16 Vehicle Fleet (6 points) received support from 12 of 16 participants.
  • No. 17 Amusement (2 points) received support from 13 of 16 participants.
  • No. 20 Eagles (2 points) received support from 14 of 16 participants.
  • No. 21 Parking (2 points) received support from 13 of 16 participants.

Support for the inclusion of the Vehicle Fleet arose as a member voiced the belief that cars are being misused by city workers. Although Parking was included in this category, participants were concerned of its potential impact on visitors coming to the city and whether it would divert potential visitors to suburban areas and neighboring states.

Services that were discussed but did not receive support for inclusion in the "Low Hanging Fruit" category were:

  • No. 3 DROP program
    • The DROP program received support from 12 of the 17 participants because participants felt it would impact services. Concern was raised that elected officials could participate in the program
  • No. 2 Courts
    • The Court received support from 7 of 17 participants for inclusion in the "Low Hanging Fruit" category. There was a general concern that nonviolent offences are clogging the system and further support for the cut would surface if priority was placed on the court hearing violent offenses first. There was concern from members of the group that if the community learned of the court's "new priorities" there would be an increase in nonviolent crime in the city.
  • No. 9 Law
    • Law was the final topic that was not carried by the working group, as it did not receive any votes after deliberation. The major concerns were the city's capacity to go after and collect money from people who owe back taxes and that people would be forced to seek private counsel, which would be too costly for many residents.
No Ways, No Hows:

Five services, totaling 49 points, were placed in the "No Ways, No Hows" category.

  • No. 5 Fire (10 points)
    • Fire was supported by 14 of the 16 participants. The issue of better screening calls prior to sending departments out was discussed and viewed as important.
  • No. 6 Library (1 point)
    • Libraries were supported by 13 of 16 participants. Consensus was developed and viewed libraries as an important resource to children and its connection to education. Discussion focused around the understanding that many schools do not have a library on campus or a librarian on staff. A reduction in libraries will result in an increase in crime and rate of incarceration.
  • No. 7 Housing (7 points)
    • Housing, which received 13 of 16 participant's support, was carried because participants believed too many people have been forced to the street. A contributor to the current homeless population is the increased rate of foreclosures in the area, many in specific zip codes.
  • No. 11 Police (26 points)
    • Police received support from 14 of 16 participants in the group. Discussion and concern arose around citations for small violations (ex: parking too far from the curb) when the community has larger crime concerns. Community members also personally felt the challenge of high crime areas and police resources being diverted to them, leaving little coverage in low priority areas.
  • No. 13 Public Health (5 points)
    • Public Health received 13 of 16 votes for inclusion in the "No Ways, No Hows" category. Public health was viewed as the, "safety net" of the City. Although not voted on, there was an expressed interest in the co-pay revenue option for Public Health.
Shared Pains:

Six options, yielding 40 points, were chosen for the Shared Pains category:

  • No.1 Administrative (5 points)
    • Administrative, which received support from 13 of 16 participants, was carried with the belief that the Mayor must take another personal pay cut.
  • No. 3 Drop program (4 points) (revisited from Low Hanging Fruit)
  • All three options in No. 15 Streets and No. 24 Sales Tax (6 points)
    • The Street Revenue Option was supported by 11 of the 16 members. There was a common belief that illegal dumping and the rat population will increase, but the group's priority is protection from job loss. The Sales Tax was supported, but members of the group noted that the city's low-income community will be affected the most.
Gut Wrenchers:

Nine of 16 participants supported a 20 percent reduction in No. 12 Prisons (21 points).

Participants believed there should be a reduction in overtime offered to staff, and there should be an increased priority placed on prison alternatives (ex: ankle monitors). Members of the group also stated that drug offenders should not be incarcerated.

Additional Comments/Options:

Three options were offered that were not listed as options in the work sheet. The city should look at increasing the Hotel Tax and look more closely at tax abatements. One individual felt the city should "say no to any salary raises while in negotiation with the unions."

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Group 10

Moderators: Loretta Raider and Josh Warner

Group Overview:

This group of 18 was relatively diverse, with a fairly even split between the sexes and an overall skew to the 40s/50s age range. For the most part, we had NE Philly residents, but about a third of the group came from other places (Center City, West Philly, South Philly, Northwest Philly, and a suburb). As far as we know, only one or two people filled out dissenting sheets, but this was done after the group meeting. No members of the group left the process or outright rejected it; however, some group members questioned the value and limits of the process. We had a diversity of viewpoints in the group, with three or four city workers present, along with several "think outside the box" folks. Overall, it was a good group.

Low Hanging Fruit:
  • No. 20 Eagles, passed with more than 75 percent of the vote
    • People were outraged that taxes hadn't been paid for use of the old stadium.
  • No. 16 Vehicle Fleet, passed with 75 percent
    • Good discussion over ‘luxury' or ‘perk' vehicles vs. necessary ones (fire, police, etc.). After Mr. Dubow answered that they were mainly looking at the sedan fleet, the vote passed.
  • No. 17 Amusement, passed with 75 percent
    • Good discussion on adding this tax to all tickets, or exempting arts and educational tickets from the increase.
  • No. 1 Administrative, passed with more than 75 percent but wasn't visited until the Shared Pain section. Group voted to put it in LHF bucket anyway.
  • In addition:
    • There was discussion of the DROP program, but after the city employees in the group explained it and the city representative, Mya, explained it, the item was revised to only remove it for Council members, so a point value was not assigned. The vote for putting it in LHF, as written on the sheet, was nowhere near even 25 percent of the group.
    • Parking was discussed as LHF, but after a lengthy discussion of PPA vs. meters vs. parking structures and mass-transit encouragement, the vote only came to about 66 percent, so it was tabled.
    • Other ideas at this time: Short discussion of PILOTS and what institutions don't pay taxes, ending the 10-year tax abatement, collecting outstanding bail bonds, and a discussion on the taxes paid to the city by large corporations or businesses that aren't headquartered in Philly.
No Way, No Hows:
  • The only thing that made it on to our list was No. 5 - Fire Department
    • Reasons given were that the Fire Department had faced so many cuts and unfilled positions already. (There was one PFD fireman in our group, who gave many reasons why cuts shouldn't be made. One of the rotating senior city officials happened to be in the room at the time and refuted many of the fireman's arguments.)
  • Several things were offered by group members as NwNh, but many only had 50-66 percent of the vote.
  • Police (voting on 10 percent cut) had 66 percent of the vote
  • Courts
  • Housing
  • Human Services
  • Law
  • Public Health
Shared Pain:

This is where the group really got going, and we only had about 15-20 minutes for this section, as it was nearing 9 p.m. No. 2 Courts was the only thing mentioned as a NwNh that made it back into active discussion and onto the "Shared Pain" list.

  • No. 22. Real Estate Tax, passed with slightly more than 50 percent
    • There was interesting discussion on increasing the millage, but converting it to a land value tax, rather than a primarily improvements-based tax.
    • General agreement that the 10-year tax abatement was unfair.
    • Overall agreement that a massive reassessment must be done before raising the mills.
    • General sentiment of "the rich should pay more" or "tired of free lunches for the condo folks."
  • No. 2. Courts (This one passed in an altered state: a 10 percent cut for 5 points), which passed with well over 50 percent of the vote
    • Interesting discussion about the case backlog of a few years ago, and how, with better funding, the court system functions fairly well now.
    • The specter of how cuts and/or full funding for courts, prisons, and police, and how they all interact, was discussed briefly.
  • No. 14 Recreation, passed with just more than 50 percent of the vote
    • Discussion of kids needing havens for constructive activities, but overall this topic was quick and easy.
  • No. 12 Prisons, with a 10 percent cut
    • The discussion about prisons was passionate, but mainly focused on the 20 percent cut.
    • Again, the link between prisons and courts was brought up.
    • Job training and re-entry programs were agreed to be necessary by the group, and if possible, cuts would spare these services from any decreases.
  • No. 15. Streets Department (both revenue options made it onto the list, and an altered budget cut)
    • (Revenue-2) "Pay-as-you-throw" was discussed briefly, and very much agreed to. Dumping (illegal and legal) was discussed in some detail. This passed with well over 50 percent support.
    • (Revenue-1) The fee for commercial businesses passed with about 66 percent of the vote. There was some brief discussion about businesses suffering or leaving the city, but that was generally shot down by the group. There was a small contingent that "couldn't believe" that businesses weren't already being charged for trash pickup.
    • (Budget cut) This passed in an altered state (10 percent cut for 5 points) by much more than 50 percent. The original 20 percent cut was one to two people shy of the 50 percent mark. Recycling came up as a passionate topic, and the services that pay people (such as Recycle Bank and Recycle Now) were brought up as potential revenue options. There was good deliberation regarding street cleaning: Is it a service that the city is responsible for providing, or is it a community/block/personal issue?
Gut Wrenchers:

This bucket was not reached in the time allowed, although some topics in the "Shared Pain" discussion were mentioned by the group as feeling like "Gut Wrenchers."

In addition:

All told, this group had a grand total of 57 points. There was some excitement regarding the Big, Hairy, Ambitious Goals as the group was breaking up after the process ended. With about 15 minutes left, the group became quite cohesive and really started rolling through and self-regulating for the numerous "Shared Pain" options deliberated. A few members were savvy enough to notice a close vote for "Shared Pain" that happened to fail, and then suggest a modified cut amount/point value, which then secured the necessary votes.

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Group 11

Moderators: Carolyn T. Thompson, Rochelle Krombolz and Carolyn Chernoff

Group Overview:

The majority of the group expressed strong feelings that no cuts should be made, and that it was better to focus on increasing revenue through means not included (and potentially intentionally excluded) on the handout. The group expressed a great deal of distrust for the process and was concerned that any information they gave would be used against them. (If they recommended cuts, then the cuts would be seen as okay for the city to implement, but cuts are not okay.) There were originally 19 participants. Two participants wanted to follow the process and left to join the main room discussion. The other 17 remained for the full time. Based on a visual assessment, rather than asking participants to self-identify, the group demographics were: majority white with one black participant; mix of male and female; range of ages, from teenaged to seasoned citizens. Various participants identified themselves as retired or current city workers (fire, police, water, recreation). No participants completed individual dissenting worksheets.

Low Hanging Fruit:
  • Eagles — Why not sue to get the money?
No Ways, No Hows:
  • Recreation Centers
    • Lived through four city bankruptcies — there are built in "cuts" that will be first to go — fluff is parades, rec centers, library — hard to say, but it's (fluff). It doesn't run the city.
    • Rec centers and libraries are needed for children, prevent crime! Keep kids off streets, give them stuff to do.
    • Rec centers help kids now without much city support. Get money from outside sources (Marines, fund-raising, employee donations).
Shared Pain:
  • Amusement (14 for)
    • For private theaters, not start-ups.
    • On expensive tickets only.
    • Want differentiated taxing to ensure that people who can afford expensive amusements were contributing at a higher level. Were not sure it is legal.
Idea Bank:

The group focused a large portion of its time and energy on creating new revenue generating ideas they would like the city to consider. At the end of the evening, each participant was asked to select the two ideas that they felt were the most important for the city to address first. Those numbers are in parenthesis at the end of the idea.

  • Collect back taxes, fines and penalties owed to the city (17).
  • Close corporate loopholes in state taxes; capture companies who don't pay taxes because they file tax returns outside of Philly (earnings and real estate taxes) (7).
  • Institute PILOT program — end for-profit tax exemption (5).
    • Verizon carries a lot of potential money especially compared to private home taxes.
    • Other cities have been doing this for 10+ years, why don't we?
  • No new tax abatements or lower the number of years. (Group was split on this one, 10 in favor, seven against) (4).
  • End the 10-year local property tax abatement.
    • If we stop tax abatements, we will lose a whole stream of revenue. (But we aren't building on the waterfront now anyway so would we really be trading anything off?)
    • Tax abatements are useful; they keep money and revenue in the city.
    • We pay taxes, builders don't. This is not fair.
    • End BPT exemptions for banks and financial institutions (2).
  • Use state treasury investment accounts to earn interest; deposit money more quickly in order to earn more interest until those monies are distributed.
    • Money is being lost because checks aren't deposited for long periods of time.
    • BPT is not cashing checks.
  • Turn back box seats at sports games in order to earn sales tax revenue on the proceeds. If the city pays for them they would also save that money. (The group was unclear whether or not the city currently pays for the box seats.)
  • DROP program needs to be better explained to citizens. It is unclear how it works.
  • Increase luxury import taxes.
  • Real estate taxes need to be reassessed.
    • Unclear whether the outcome of this process will simply equalize the amount of taxes being paid across the constituency or if there be a net increase in revenues.
  • Implement controller suggestions that have already been captured and published to increase revenue.
Discussion Notes:
Reaction to the process and big-picture feedback
  • We don't want any cuts! (Lots of group support and energy for this.)
    • We have weathered tough times before without this type of budget cut.
    • There is no way a revenue-only approach will get us to 100 points. (minority view)
    • Fourteen participants wanted to focus only on revenue gain; five wanted to focus on revenue and reductions.
  • We should be looking at long-term goals to help the five-year plan. (Lots of group energy around this topic.)
    • First judicial district is a no brainer.
    • Get that state money!
    • The city should have taken care of these issues a long time ago. Why should we table that discussion tonight versus sending them a message that we are tired of the lack of accountability on these things.
    • We need to start looking at these now!
  • New ideas are being marginalized. We are being forced to choose between certain options, and the list is not inclusive of many good ideas. Important things missing include:
    • Tax abatement
    • Closing corporate loopholes
    • Budget numbers not correct — city is holding out real numbers.
  • Decisions are being made by those who do not understand the city.
  • Losing funds to red tape.
  • They probably won't listen to anything we say here.
    • We can send a message by not playing their game tonight.
    • Post Office employee surveys were used against employees when bargaining — concerned this is same thing. (Revenue cuts will be seen as okay because citizens recommended them.)
    • They already know what they are going to do.
    • Nutter is a good man making tough choices but it is a game.
    • Solving this puzzle is not a solution or the best use of this meeting.
Content Discussion
  • We are firing those who bring in revenue.
  • I pay taxes but others don't. Slumlords profit.
  • Revenue creation
    • (General energy in the group was to get additional revenue from higher income people and businesses.)
    • Concern that the city is nickel and diming us so that we won't be able to afford to live in the city.
    • For every revenue incentive we say no to, the city will see it as support for service cuts. (minority view)
    • Don't want to increase revenue streams that hurt us.
  • Real estate tax (didn't quite make the "No Ways, No Hows" list, but was close)
    • Disagreement about whether or not this helped families.
    • Outsiders (NY) brought up our neighborhoods.
    • Leave transfer taxes alone.
  • Business privilege tax
    • It is killing us!
    • It hurts, but there are exemptions for that aren't fair.
      • End exemptions for financial institutions, port related businesses and other profit making businesses.
    • Disagreement about whether or not credit unions should be exempt.
    • Get rid of the gross receipts part. (This probably has to go through City Council.)
  • Sales tax
    • Don't increase it
  • Parking taxes
    • I paid more to park for two hours than for my ticket to the auto show.
    • People purposely get parking tickets because they cost less than parking in a garage.
  • Casinos
    • They will generate revenue; they could financially save this town.
    • We need a tax base; we need new income; what better way than gambling.
    • Can't believe the city can't generate revenue without casinos — seems like an admission of guilt.
  • Additional items touched on briefly
    • Causation program — reassess for revenue.
    • Equalization program — we should say no, we aren't getting the whole story.
    • Do people who make money off investments and interest have to pay wage tax on this money?
    • Concern was expressed regarding retires paying these taxes.

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Group M

Moderators: Chris Satullo, Harris Sokoloff

Total points: 56 points

Group Description:

The group in the main room was composed of more than 125 people, raging in age from late teens to mid-70s, with the majority in the 20s and 30s. The group was predominately white, with about 15% African-American and Latino.

Because of the size of the group, we asked people to work in small groups to do initial deliberations and we then gathered ideas from groups, as well as from individuals in groups. The room was noisy at times — evidence of engagement with the ideas and high energy. Ambient noises at times made it difficult for people to hear each other, but the general good will in the group prevailed as people repeated comments when asked. Still, given the size of the group, it was difficult at times for people to dig as deeply as they might have liked into pros and cons. The size of the group also made it difficult to work through all of the "buckets," working their way into items for the "Share The Pain" bucket, but not making it to the "Gut Wrencher" bucket.

There was a large contingent of folks concerned about housing and human services, as well as a group protective of both fire and police departments. Some in the group were eager to raise taxes on the middle and upper classes - to avoid cutting programs. Others expressed concern that this would accelerate flight of the middle class and business out of the city. Still, the concern for housing and human services was paramount for a majority of the group. When it became clear that they couldn't get to the goal just by raising taxes, there seemed to be more interest in seeing what could be cut with least service impact.

Low-Hanging Fruit

Total points: 16 points

  • # 20, Eagles: 4 points (100%)
    • There was little discussion around this as a murmur of agreement, and no disagreement, arose the moment this item and the next were mentioned.
  • # 21, Parking: 2 points — Someone noted that this aligned with a desire to reduce traffic in Center City. (100%)
  • # 1, Administrative: 5 points (90%)
    • Like the Eagles and Parking, there was nearly universal agreement on this as a "low hanging fruit" — though a defender of the Philadelphia Film Office noted that it brought more revenue into the city than it spent, and should be preserved.
    • The group agreed that money for the Film Office should be saved, while additional cuts from other offices might be made - particularly the Mayor's office which they feel has grown too full of high-salaried people
    • A police officer offered the view that the police dept. also had become top-heavy with "brass" since a charter change allowed the commissioner to appoint more exempt deputies.
    • Indeed, throughout the evening, offices that generate more money than they take to run were out to be left as is.
  • #17 Amusement Tax: 2 points. No debate about this one.
  • #16 Fleet: 3 points (out of possible 6)
    • It's okay to cut the fleet of cars the city has, but not to the extent that it reduces the policing abilities. So don't cut police cars.

A proposal to end 311 as Low-Hanging Fruit was met by an impassioned objection from a civic association leader who said 311 had already made a big difference in her neighborhood's ability to get responses to its issues. The proposal was voted down.

No Ways, No Hows

Total points: 92 points

  • #8 Human services: 19 points
    • Don't cut this as it amounts to "preventive spending"
    • They wanted the kinds of afterschool programs supported by Philadelphia Safe and Sound restored and supported, but thought that Safe and Sound was not run effectively.
    • While the old DHS was ineffective, people do not want to "handcuff" DHS as a new commissioner comes in who has good plans. When run well, DHS is a valuable tool.
  • #7 Housing: 7 points
    • In this weak economy, people need all the help they can get for housing and housing alternatives for the homeless.
  • #13 Public Health: 7 points
    • Cutting here will disproportionately affect the poor, who need the most health support.
    • There was a lot of back and forth about whether clients of health centers should be expected to pay for their over the counter medications. In the end, the majority seemed to think they should.
  • #14 Recreation at 20% Level: 7 points
    • Cutting this much will lead more kids to stray, engage in risky behavior.
    • Hard working parents, who can't be home in afternoons or summer days, need the support of a safe place and program for their children.
    • But there was a voice in the room that argued that parents still need to do their part. Recreation centers cannot do it alone, but need parental involvement.
    • NOTE: We didn't have time to get back to this at the 10% level.
  • #11 Police at 20% level: 52 points
    • There was no support for cutting police at the 20% level.
    • But there was some support for cutting at the 10% level so long as those cuts would be at the administration level, not beat police.
  • #6 Libraries: 3 points
    • Students use these after school as safe, quiet place to study, for computers and other resources
    • Adults use them during the day for access to computers for job searching.
    • It might be okay to reduce hours of libraries in communities where people have their own computers, but not in poorest neighborhoods.
  • #5 Fire at 10% level: 10 points
    • No discussion, no support at all for fire cuts.
Shared Pain

Total points: 40

  • #10 Licenses and Inspections: 2 points
    • Don't cut those parts of L&I that bring in money from fines, etc.
    • Reduce demolitions done, not staff.
  • # 15 No on "pay as you throw,"
    • But in discussion it was clear people didn't understand how this would work. Much concern that it would lead to a rise in illegal dumping on corner lots, and arguments among neighbors as bad actors tried to finagle so that neighbors got stuck paying for their trash.
  • # 25 Wage Tax - 17 points
    • Increase it 0.1 percent on both commuters and residents. A proposal to raise it much higher, while exempting the first, say, $40,000 in income to ease the burden on the working class, was voted down.
    • There was discussion here about finding a way to go after, and tax, the underground economy which would bring in additional money.
    • There was some concern about the impact of this on middle and upper class people - with concern about flight from the city putting more burden on services.
  • #18 and 19 No on Business Privilege Taxes
  • #12 Prisons: 21 Points
    • Close one prison and let non-violent criminals work their way back into society.
    • Money cut here should not cut job training and re-entry programs to make closing one prison possible.
  • #24 Sales tax hike was discussed but voted down, because of impact on people struggling to make ends meet. One person objected that food and clothing were exempted, so it was really more progressive a tax than people were saying.
Gut Wrenchers
  • Didn't get here
Memorable Quotes

"The mayor's office has just blown up in size with all these people from out of town making big dollars."

"If we've got to cut something, it's not clear to me why we can't do some of this Fairmount Park stuff. I mean, compared to keeping rec centers open for kids, how important are fountains and historic houses?"

"Why can't somebody, even if they're poor, pay for their own aspirin?"

"Instead of cutting services, why not really tax the rich people who can afford to pay, but exempt low-income people from the increase."

"You end the DROP program, you could keep some really experienced people who know what they're doing from coming back to help the city out."

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