PHILADELPHIA – Mayor John Street presented his $3.3 billion Budget for fiscal year 2004 to the city council, Jan. 29, a budget that will cut more than 500 city jobs this year and 1,614 by 2008. He said the cuts were necessary to prevent an $830 million deficit by 2008.

“The city is spending more than it takes in every year,” said Street, adding that the “good news” is that there will be no new taxes and that services will be delivered in a more efficient way.

The City Charter prevents the city from violating any union contract. Perhaps that is the reason why he never spoke of “layoffs.” The mayor said he will fire 50 appointed members of his administrative staff within 30 days, saving the city $17 million. He plans to centralize constituent services, public information and grant writing. Street said his workforce reduction plan, the “Drop Program,” with its freeze on hiring, will eliminate 50 percent of all positions that will become vacant between now and 2008. He said these changes are planned to eliminate 400 positions.

Several times during his address Street said Philadelphia is now a smaller city after losing 600,000 residents since 1960 and needed to streamline its operations and get rid of or consolidate its programs: recreation centers, health clinics, pools and playgrounds. He said city employees would be given a chance to take positions in other departments if they were “bumped” from their own department.

The remainder of the mayor’s speech was a combination of State of Philadelphia Address and a campaign speech. Street listed the accomplishments of the city under his leadership: Philadelphia Gas Works solvent; two new sports stadiums under construction, increased state funding to public schools and safer and cleaner neighborhoods. He boasted that crime was down by more than 15 percent.

Street said his administration has worked hard to keep businesses in the city, thereby saving 1,000 jobs. He said he had promises from nearly a dozen businesses to move to Philadelphia, bringing with them 1,700 jobs.

Although most people welcome the new jobs, there are many troubling questions: Are tax abatements the reason they are moving here? How long have they agreed to stay? Will they pay their employees a living wage with benefits? These are the questions community groups plan to ask at the City Council Budget Hearings.

Street did not mention homeless families/people, unemployment or health care in his address. Nor did he mention the increase of poverty.

Street asked the council to provide $605 million for schools, significantly more than in the past. But much more is needed from the state to achieve quality education for all students. Street said he strongly opposed Edison Schools Inc. taking over operation of the Philadelphia school system, but said he is willing to experiment with private management of some schools. He called the state takeover of the city school system a “partnership between the city and the state.”

Many teachers, parents and students, victims of the confusion and turmoil of recent months, would not agree with the mayor. But Street strongly criticized the state take-over of the city’s Convention Center and called it an illegal power grab for patronage and power. The Republican controlled Board has not settled a labor/management dispute that jeopardizes the ability of the city to host conventions of national organizations.

The budget includes $5 million for loans to bring childcare centers up to par and $25 million for after school/weekend programs in schools and $30 million to expand the library system. Mayor Street repeated over and over that he wants Philadelphia to be a world class city.

But it will take increased funding from the federal government and a more enlightened vision at City Hall to bring this to realization.

The author can be reached at phillyrose1@earthlink.net

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