State Senator Anthony Hardy Williams | Testimony Before City Council
FY 2020 Budget and FY 2020-24 Five-Year Plan | Monday, April 15, 2019.
Council President Clarke and members of Philadelphia city council: thank you for the opportunity to present testimony on the city’s proposed budget and five-year financial plan.
I am a three-decade member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, having served five terms as a State Representative and more than five terms as State Senator. With me today, are former Mayor and Council President and Council Member John F. Street and the former City Controller’s Office Director of Financial and Policy Analysis, Brett Mandel.
A hallmark of the best governments is the expertise of the people who surround the person chosen to lead. The men who accompany me here today have greater knowledge of the city budget and government spending practices than most of us will ever understand. It’s why the recommendations we make here today reflect many years of thoughtful planning for our city.
I applaud the work that the members of this council perform reviewing budget documents and posing questions to administration officials. As our proposed spending nears $5 billion for the operating budget alone, it is a tremendous undertaking to review the city’s plan to spend our city’s scarce resources. But, I come before you today to say that this council and the public at large deserve more in terms of information about city spending. We can do better in terms of preparing and presenting systems and data so we can make better decisions about our budgetary assumptions and spending priorities.
And just as important, we want to make it easy for our residents and taxpayers to know how we are spending their money.
Philadelphia’s financial systems were once considered forward-thinking, but they were designed for the 1950s. Nearly three-quarters of a century later, the public and this city council deserve modern, accountable, and transparent government budgetary systems.
Today, there is no reasonable way city council, much less the members of the general public, can determine what will actually happen in terms of spending by looking at the city administration’s budgetary testimony. Because it is the mayor who actually determines line-item spending, there is no way for the public or city council to hold the administration accountable for what is actually spent or not spent in a given fiscal year. Finally, because there is not enumeration and public scrutiny of actual public contracts before they are awarded, there is almost no ability for the public or city council to participate meaningfully in decisions about who actually gets city work.
I very much look forward to working with you to make the changes in law and procedure to build a fiscal infrastructure for the 21st-century.
The proposed FY20 budget projects FY19 revenues to be more than $26 million higher than originally budgeted. That money could have been programmed to fund badly needed investments in our neighborhoods. Today, Philadelphia’s mayor establishes the city’s annual revenue estimate, which establishes a ceiling for budgetary expenditures. But, by setting an unnecessarily low estimate or an unreasonably high estimate, the mayor is able to budget to spend more than we have or to shortchange necessary investments.