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Philadelphia 2020: Chapter Five

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The following is a fictional account.

 

Chapter 5

Calubra was right.  In quick order, Council agreed to raise the real estate tax by $140 million.  Department heads agreed to slice another $100 million out of their budgets. The final piece was the unions.  If they agreed to the concessions, the city would be at the magic $460 million mark.

Thompson agreed with Calubra: "The plan appears to be working, Rob.  The Senate passed SB222 two weeks ago but Dwight has agreed to hold it up in committee in the state House to give us time to get all of our ducks in line."

The Democrats controlled the state House by five votes and Rep. Dwight Evans, now in his 25th year as chair of the House Appropriations Committee, had agreed - reluctantly - to go along with the gambit.  "I'll do this for you," he had told Calubra. "But, if one part of it falls apart, it will all come tumbling down.  I won't be able to keep it bottled up forever."

With the $460 raised, the mayor planned to withdraw her threat to abandon paying the required subsidies.  The governor and the Senate would get to take credit for forcing Philadelphia to come to its senses. All would be well again.

By creating a crisis, Street had told them, you also create the tools to solve the crisis.

Now, all the major players could do is wait on the unions.

Before the 48 hours passed, five of the seven major unions agreed to the concessions - contingent upon all the unions agreeing.  Only the Firefighters and the FOP were missing.

An hour before the deadline. Calubra broke down and called John McMurphy, the FOP head, newly elected to his position after 25 years on the force.

"John, it's time and I need your answer," Calubra said.

"Okay," McMurphy said. "We'll take a pass."

Beck and Thompson, sitting in the room with Calubra, saw the pained look on his face.

"What do you mean you'll take a pass?" Calubra demanded.

"I mean we'll take a pass," McMurphy said. "We won't agreed to the concessions.  We refuse.  And if you call Mickey Johnson at the Firefighters, he'll tell you the same thing."

"You'll be sorry for this" was the only thing Calubra could manage to say.  Then, he added: "We'll get back to you."

"What's up," Thompson demanded to know.

"He's not buying in," Calubra said, dialing a number as he watched her face fall.

Beck and Thompson could hear the phone on the other end of the line and a voice answer.  It was John Street.

"Mr. Mayor," Calubra said. "The FOP and the Firefighters aren't taking the deal.  They won't make any concessions."

"I was afraid of that happening," Street said, calmly.

"You were what?" Calubra demanded.

"I was afraid of that happening," Street said. "McMurphy and the guy from the Firefighters probably figure they can get a better deal from the state if it does the takeover.  Republicans are law-and-order freaks.  They won't want to harm the guys in uniform.  It's a calculated risk, but probably the right one - for them."

To Beck and Thompson, it looked as if Calubra was about to cry.

"What's your Plan B?" Street asked.

"Plan B?" Calubra said. "We don't have a Plan B."

"Oh dear," Street said. "That's a shame. I am sure the state has a Plan B."

Within two weeks, SB222 passed and was signed into law by the governor.

It gave Calubra time to plan a counter-offensive.  It didn't take much prompting to get people worked up about the takeover of a majority-minority city by a white governor from rural Pennsylvania.  "The guys from Cranberry Township, for God's sake," Calubra told his legislative aide, Jose DiDonato.  "He wears a crew cut. He wears suits from Sears.  He looks like a Yahoo."

Under the new law, the mayor got to make one appointment to the Oversight Committee and the governor two, subject to confirmation by the Senate.

"I going to ask the mayor to appoint me as her member on the committee," Calubra said. "That way, I'll be in on their decisions and can sabotage as many as I can.  We'll make life miserable for this other commissioners."

And. Calubra thought, helped him save the jobs of his girlfriend at the Parking Authority, his father at the Office of Housing, and his brother and uncle at the Mayor's Office of Community Services.  If you can't help your own, who can you help?

DiDonato's Blackberry chimed and he scanned the screen.

"Holy shit," he said. "Marty, you may have to rethink your strategy."

"What is it," Calubra demanded to know.

"The governor just named his two commissioners," DiDonato said.

"And they are.....?" Calubra asked.

DiDonato let out a soft whistle: "They are Dwight Evans and John Street."

Calubra's face went blank. "I have to go see the mayor ," he said suddenly and left the room as if he had been shot from a gun.

He was back within 10 minutes.

DiDonato had never seen Calubra so somber.  "So, what did she say? Did you name you as the other commissioner?"

"No," Calubra said, reaching for his jacket and coat. "She told me - and I quote - the gods are angry, Marty, and they are demanding a sacrifice.  Someone has to go into the volcano."

DiDonato looked puzzled.  "And....?

Calubra straightened his tie, buttoned his jacket and headed for the door.

"And I've been assigned to look for that volcano -- and jump in."

 

                                                The End

Read: Philadelphia 2020: Facts and Figures

 

 

This short story is fiction, but the facts and figures are real. It is based on the estimation that the tax and spending policies of the city for the last 10 years will continue for the next 10 and it carries them forward to 2020. The crisis in this story is caused by a slight decrease in tax revenue and several extraordinary expenses.   A separate part called "Facts and Figures" outline current spending trends and projections going forward. This series was written and reported by Senior Editor Tom Ferrick Jr.

 

 

 

 

 

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