In late May, when Mayor Nutter heard that City Council had adopted a regressive 9.9% real estate tax instead of his proposed soda tax, he threatened the City with another $15 million in surprise cuts, including $2.5 million in cuts to libraries, which would reduce library hours from five to four days a week.
“It would be horrible [to go from five to four days]," said Joe Baker, president of the Friends of the Independence Branch Library. "To me, it's a sign the city is dying."
When Mayor Nutter took office in 2008, a decade of tax breaks and handouts to big corporations had already devastated Philadelphia’s finances. Center City lobbyists were invested in political candidates who promised to be “pro-business” and elected officials had directed millions of dollars in public funds towards skyscrapers convention centers, stadiums and casinos. By the time the Recession hit, Philadelphia was giving away over $80 million dollars in corporate tax cuts per year.
It’s no wonder that, by November of that same year, Nutter was forced to announce a 1.4 billion dollar budget shortfall. Instead of closing the deficit by reversing the business tax cuts, the Mayor and City Council passed the cost onto Philadelphia residents with a regressive sales tax increase and drastic cuts to essential city services, including an attempt to close down 11 city libraries that was defeated by a grassroots effort.
“Philadelphia is supposed to be the creator of liberty,” said Sheila Washington, of the Haddington branch library, speaking in front of Council Chambers. “But they are taxing the poorest the highest. It isn’t fair.”
A year later, City Hall continues to protect businesses at the expense of neighborhoods and communities. Youth violence reduction programs are facing an irresponsible 1.7 million dollars in spending reductions, supportive housing services are losing half a million dollars, and firefighters are being threatened with the loss of two fire companies – a full 40 positions. “My job is to save lives,” said Bill Gault, president of the Local 22 Firefighters Union. “With fewer firehouses this becomes harder for me and my team to do.”
The cuts go into effect on July 1st, and neither the Mayor nor Council have shown any interest in avoiding them. Reverend Jesse Brown concluded the demonstration in City Hall with a short prayer, asking God to give Philadelphia politicians the courage to stand up for the needs of regular people as the budget crisis continues.
Coalition to Save the Libraries