Crisis Averted: City Avoids Layoffs With Pa. Senate Vote

City avoids massive layoffs and service cuts

The City of Philadelphia can put away its Plan C budget as the Pennsylvania Senate finally passed Pa. House Bill 1828.

Lawmakers voted 32-17 Thursday afternoon to allow the City of Philadelphia make a temporary one cent increase in the sales tax and defer payments to city pension plans.

With the bill's passage, Philadelphia avoids laying off almost 3,000 workers and shutting down many city services. Pink slips were scheduled to be sent out Friday if they state did not approve the city's revenue generating plans. The cuts would have went into effect on October 2.

Moments after the bill was passed, the mayor called his executive team back in Philadelphia to "terminate Plan C." The elated staff gave Nutter a standing ovation, according to city managing director Dr. Camille Barnett.

“This is a great win for the citizens of Philadelphia,”  Mayor Michael Nutter said in a statement from Harrisburg.  “I am so proud of how we have weathered this storm as a city, with a typical fighting Philly spirit."

More than $700 million is expected to be garnered from the two measures -- an increase to the sales tax alone could add $340 million to the city's coffers over two years, according to officials.

The measures were held up in Harrisburg for weeks due to unrelated issues with the Commonwealth budget and a disagreement between the House and Senate over language that would overhaul the state's municipal pension laws.

"The politics of this situation though, I think, have clouded a clear path to action and it is just painful that we would be in this circumstance through no fault of our own," Nutter said of the delays late Wednesday.

If the bill wasn't passed, more than 700 police officers and hundreds of EMS and firefighters could have lost their jobs. Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said the potential layoffs "made no sense at all" after meeting with those potentially affected late Wednesday. He urged Harrisburg to "pass the damn law," when asked he felt about the situtation.

The city was planning for a forced shut down of the Free Library, Department of Recreation, Department of Commerce and Fairmount Park System, among others. Trash collection would have also been cut to only twice a week.

"I think people are just really relieved and delighted that we don't have to send out these layoff notices," Barnett said. "We can turn the page and we can get back to the business of governing."

And they certianly are relieved. "Its been hard for us," Arlene Henry said while leaving the Municipal Services Building. The human resources department employee just finished preparing the thousands of now void termination letters. "It was hard for our department to have to pull names for people we recognize," Henry admitted.

The mayor sent this message to all city employees after he spoked to his elated executive team:

Dear Fellow City Employees,

I have some great news for you and for all of us – the implementation of Plan C will stop immediately!

I am in Harrisburg right now where the Senate has just approved House Bill 1828 – the legislation is now on its way to Governor Rendell’s desk for his signature.

This means we will not send out nearly 3,000 layoff notices; all libraries, rec centers, health centers will remain open; trash pick up will not change; all of our Departments will remain open for business – all of the devastating consequences of Plan C will be avoided.

It was your hard work, your dedication, and your commitment to public service that helped ensure this success.  I want to take this opportunity to sincerely thank you for what you do every day.

This has been a tough year.  The worldwide economic crisis hit us hard.  But we rolled up our sleeves and met the crisis head on.  

And, now with the passage of HB 1828, we can turn this difficult corner and once again renew our efforts to move forward.

I am so proud of how we have weathered this storm as a city, with a typical fighting Philly spirit.  Just think of what we can achieve together when we turn that resilience, that determination, that teamwork towards the tremendous opportunities and endless possibilities that lie ahead.

Thank you.

Mayor Michael A. Nutter

Newly-minted "Best Man" Governor Ed Rendell planned to use his awesome Esquire powers to sign the bill into law as soon as it hits his desk Friday.

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