Downsizing City Hall
Since the start of the recession in 2007, local and state governments across the country have shed about half a
million jobs, according to the Pew Center on the States (PDF). In Philadelphia, the number of
people on the city payroll is as low as it has been in many years. According to
the latest Quarterly City Manager’s Report (PDF), there were 26,344 people working
for the city as of March 31. Four years earlier, the corresponding figure was
27,635, meaning there has been a reduction of 4.7 percent. The change has been
gradual; City Hall has not engaged in large-scale
The first report from the Pew American Cities Project, a new joint venture between us and the Pew Center on the States, helps explain why local governments have faced such tough
sledding—and continue to struggle now. For the first time
since 1980, the two largest sources of local government revenues, namely state
aid and property taxes, have been dropping simultaneously, while there has been
a rising demand for public services, driven in part by stubbornly high
unemployment. All of this has put the squeeze on decision-makers in cities,
counties, townships and school districts, with more tough choices unavoidable
in the years ahead.
The sugary drink 'ban wagon'
As Philadelphians know, New York City's Michael Bloomberg is hardly the first mayor to seek a limit on sugar-sweetened drinks: Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter proposed a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in two of the last three years, only to be rebuffed each time. Now the website Atlantic Cities has listed Philadelphia as one of five U.S. cities most likely to join NYC's bandwagon, based on those cities' track records of enacting other health-related regulations. Nutter in a speech last week to the Center for Science in the Public Interest highlighted his role in pushing for Philadelphia's smoking ban and called on scientists to deliver direct proof about sweetened drinks' role in obesity. But a soda tax remains an uphill battle for the mayor, as his past attempts have shown. Indeed, Atlantic Cities concluded that Seattle and Albany are more likely than Philadelphia to follow NYC.
311 centers face cuts
Two years ago, we took the first hard look (PDF) at Philly311 and compared it to call centers in other cities. Philly's controller followed with his own critical report. Now Governing.com finds that many cities, while enthusiastic about the 311 concept, have been cutting costs partly by having callers serve themselves. One way
is greater use of interactive voice response systems, in which callers respond to pre-programmed computer messages to get information or be transferred to other lines. Another
is to let residents tap directly into 311 databases through smartphone or computer apps, without direct staff interaction. Philadelphia hopes to have its own 311 app ready by the end of the summer.
How do we know that number?
Underlying many of our research reports is information from the American Community Survey,
an unparalleled source of economic and demographic information produced
by the U.S. Census Bureau. In May, the House of
Representatives voted to eliminate all funding for this program on the
some of its questions are intrusive, others are petty, and that the
is a waste of money. Every year the survey is sent to 3 million
households, who are required by law to complete it. The survey is how we
know, for example, that 26.7 percent of Philadelphians
live in poverty and 23 percent of the city’s adults are college
graduates. Researchers use the information to spot trends, businesses
use it to make decisions, and government leaders—including Congress—use it to allocate hundreds of billions of dollars nationwide. Even
if the Senate keeps the survey alive, the odds are that
it will have less funding moving forward.
A slice of Paris
Modeled nearly 100 years ago after Paris' famous Champs-Élysées, Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Parkway has been in the news recently with museums, parks, and parties (Note: Pew provided funding for the Barnes and other recent projects). Joining in the spirit, we recommend this fine slideshow of Parkway scenes, courtesy of Flickr.