Controller Rebecca Rhynhart Releases Alternative Budget Plan with No Tax Increase

The City's deteriorating fiscal situation has led Mayor Kenney to toss out his administration’s earlier budget proposal and return with a much-reduced version that solves for a $649 million budget gap with a mix of budget cuts and tax increases.

The proposal is still just a proposal, and City Council is now in the midst of virtual budget hearings where they’ll be reviewing the plan, interviewing city departments, and looking for ways to reverse some of the more politically unpopular cuts and limit tax increases.

Controller Rebecca Rhynhart stepped into the fray this week to shift the debate with an alternative proposal that would close the budget gap while forgoing the $107 million in tax increases in Mayor Kenney’s revised budget.

The biggest savings in Rhynhart’s alternative plan come from forgoing a $50 million deposit into the Finance Department’s Recession Reserve, which she argues should be used during the current recession, and a coordinated effort to reduce overtime to FY11 levels for $45 million in savings.

Rhynhart says we should have expected to see overtime decline as a result of increased staffing, but instead it’s grown—a trend she says indicates a lack of oversight and control over the use of overtime.

“As staffing levels increase overtime should decline, since overtime is a tool to manage staffing shortages. However, the City added 945 full time employees since FY17 and at the same time, overtime increased from $168 million in FY17 to $181 million in FY19.

Looking at overtime costs adjusted for inflation since FY11 shows the magnitude of the savings opportunity for the City’s budget. Overtime per employee costs Citywide have increased from $6,000 per employee in FY11 to $8,000 per employee in FY19, the last full year of data.”

What’s notable about the Controller proposal is that there’s nothing outlandish there that really strains credulity, and it doesn’t offer false promises or options that are out of local officials’ hands. There may even be some good counter-arguments to them! But overall, the proposed alternatives do seem like a less painful and also more strategic way of funding what municipal government needs to accomplish right now.

On a political level, it’s a nice reminder of why it’s good to elect smart independent people to the Controller’s office who can bring some real oversight and accountability to public finance questions, even if it leads to more personal antagonism between the Mayor and Controller. The move also generated a lot of chatter on social media about Rhynhart as a 2023 Mayoral contender, and some speculation from Philly Mag.

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