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Mayor’s Machine scams citizens as Council caves in

Tonight (June 12) on WURD 900 AM at 7 PM

The cartoon in the Sunday Inquirer says it all, and the Inquirer’s Joe DiStefano’s treatise on the pension situation is a must read.   We learn yesterday that City Council will now hold hearings on the city budget as it is disclosed that this “do gooder” soda tax is not all headed for pre-K, and if Kenney pulls it off, is going to be used to cash up budget shortfalls as we move closer to the date when the fiscal year ends, the budget and five year plan gets “reviewed” and then faces final approval by the state through PICA in July.


Anyone who pays any attention to what I have been clamoring about for the last three years might just recall that the budget, five year forecast and how the public has been scammed by a duplicituous Board named PICA has been a top priority.  In essence, this city with the highest paid City Council, very low ratio of residents to highly paid employees running up overtime with regularity, a scam called DROP, and pensions in very deep trouble, has been able to hide from the public how it runs its finances for years, despite the fact that the State of Pennsylvania imposed an oversight board with an Act that gave it power and teeth to enforce after the nearly bankrupty city went crying to the state for emergency funds to fill critical shortfalls in 1991.


Would it surprise anyone to know that this fiscal political kabuki dance, known as ”PICA approval of the budget and five year plan” has been rigged through bi-partisan dealing to allow the mayor to have his insiders prepare a budget that would not pass muster with any professional accountants or actuaries, actually has not passed muster with our own Controller for years, and in some cases has not even passed muster with PICA’s own full time internal staff. Yes, documented reports by the Controller and PICA staff have made the case that these budgets and five year forecasts are plagued with problems, shortfalls and suspect projections, among them the assumption on how much the flawed pensions system will earn year after year.


The politicians have done all they can to make sure that the budget and PICA hearings stay almost secret and the media and press have helped in that regard, as those who attend, do analysis and report on what takes place at these PICA  annual  meetings, have fallen off to only myself and one Inquirer reporter, from a time only a few years ago when a dozen or more might be there with TV coverage as well.  


Why should any mayor or any city council get away with enacting a tax on anything without first explaining how its general budget and five year plan works and while it pays its administration and employees fat salaries and sweetheart pensions, never justifying the highest wage taxes in the nation and some of the most manipulative real estate deals and tax abatements for insiders.


Bottom Line:  Even if the mayor’s Finance Director prepares a substandard and self-serving document, even if City Council chooses to “whistle past the graveyard,” even if the press does not prioritize how important this process is to the city fiscal health, the “experts” on the PICA Board have an obligation to the citizens to put these financial documents to the most stringent tests and measure against similar situations nationwide.  Instead they treat PICA meetings as social events, and walk in the door knowing that the game is rigged before the presentation starts.  The Democratic and Republican appointees have been told what they need to do to keep the folks fooled and money flowing; even if it is a budget behind the curtain similar to the Wizard of Oz. Just to amplify how political and questionable these appointments are, the most recent Chairperson, Suzanne Biemiller, who piloted the most recent almost instant approval last July, was a Chief Deputy Mayor for Nutter only months before.   So, a key player in the administration drawing up the budget becomes the Chairperson for the “Independent Board” approving it.  You can’t make this stuff up, but this is Philadelphia. Remember what Lincoln Steffans said many years ago about this city: "Philadelphia: Corrupt and Contented," July, 1903.


Cooperation on keeping these tactics silent ran further up the political and power player totem pole when I was silenced from speaking about these issues as a candidate for mayor in the recent election.   As an Independent candidate, on the ballot with more signatures than Kenney, I was denied participation in the televised debates despite the fact I had a published 10 point platform that went right to the heart of fiscal crises and particularly took on the corrupt budget and approval process through PICA.


Sure, let City Council bring the budget to the floor, actually review with intent to reform, publish Alan Butkovitz last three annual budget reports recommending no approval, publish PICA’s own internal reports citing caution and even disapproval in some years.  Finally, some of the articles in the Independent Voice from past issues may resonate with those who have concerns that their city is on the brink of insolvency while it practices duplicity as a standard practice.


For more information, listen to our call in radio program on WURD tonight at 7 pm on 900 AM or streaming on your computer.  Better yet, call in and make your perspective and opinion known.


Jim Foster

The Independent Voice