A new and likely-doomed blog series, in which I fuss â€” about the city budget. Oh yeah.
"The Government," Mayor Nutter told me, very firmly, "is not growing."
Period. That's it. Read. My. Lips.
Well, he didn't say that, but he kind of implied it. I stammered a bit and waved a piece of paper entitled "City Manager's Quarterly Report" at him, but the mayor wouldn't budge. "The government is not growing," he said, and patted me good-naturedly on the back, as if to say, "But nice try."
It's a claim he's made several times, most notably in a recent letter to the Inquirer:
Several opinion pieces may lead readers to believe the city has relied only on revenue measures to solve the multibillion-dollar deficits it has faced since the world economic collapse. That is false. Excluding pensions and debt service, the city's costs this year will be about $160 million lower than in fiscal 2008. A big part of that reduction has been in personnel costs. Since December 2008, the city's general-fund workforce has shrunk by about 800, and when part-time and temporary positions are added, there are 1,250 fewer employees now than at the end of 2008. And for the first half of this fiscal year, overtime was down by a third from where it was last year.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the government, this man is saying, is not growing.
But this handy chart I made says differently:
|By Isaiah Thompson, Data: City of Philadelphia|
Here's what the chart tells us:
- While it's true that Nutter cut jobs way down from December 2008, that date represented a high-water mark; in other words, Nutter, at the time, was already presiding over the highest level of staffing in four years.
- Starting this year, we can expect to see the city's staff levels go back up, eventually back to where they were in 2005 â€” which was a full three years before the great financial collapse.
- Between 2008 and 2009, the mayor did eliminate actual positions â€” but he also eliminated plenty of vacant positions.
- The number of actual positions, while shrinking, has stayed in more or less the same relative in proportion to the number of budgeted positions.
Look: I'm not some small-government nut. Putting on my columnist's hat for a minute, I don't really care all that much if we do or don't add 100 jobs. It's a small part of the overall budget, and a relatively small part of the overall tax burden. But in a budget proposal which makes virtually no cuts on the one hand, and raises taxes on the other, it's worth asking whether the administration is making its sacrifices this year, too.
Nutter's response, when I first tried to run these numbers by him, was "Talk to Dubow" â€” referring to Rob Dubow, Director of Finance.
Dubow, initially, told me that the city is not adding staff. Until he admitted that, well, yes, it is adding a few positions â€” but not that many, and, he said, the city expects some of these staff investments (e.g technologyth) to result in "efficiencies," which they have not yet budgeted for.
Which is all well and good, but not â€“ not quite â€“ what the mayor said, when he said, "The Government is not growing."