EDITORIAL: Budget cuts to row offices?
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Mayor Nutter is right to be calling on elected officials populating row offices - independently elected offices separate from the executive branch - to do their part.
Even though cuts are unlikely to come fast enough to help with the city's problems today, we welcome his effort to shine a light on, and possibly squeeze some savings from, these offices. Especially if it becomes part of a broader discussion of reorganizing city government.
Ultimately, City Council, which approves the budgets for these offices, needs to step up and take their oversight seriously.
Independent elected officials include high-profile positions like the district attorney and city controller, as well as lesser-known offices such as the clerk of Quarter Sessions, register of wills, and the city commissioners. All of these offices have a combined budget of more than $200 million.
A small handful responded to Nutter's announcement of the crisis by taking pay cuts. But more is needed.
Now is a perfect time to consider which of these independent elected officials we need. The formulation of row offices was designed in 1951, as part of the creation of the city charter. We're long overdue in revisiting a plan put into place 60 years ago.
A perfect example is the Office of the City Commissioners, responsible for running local elections. Elections in every other county in the state are run by a nonpartisan board staffed by civil servants. Philadelphia should consider moving to a similar system if it would increase efficiency and save money.
We also can't help but point out that many of these offices- like the D.A., register of wills and sheriff- are related to the criminal-justice system. The combined price tag of prisons, courts, and police is nearly $1 billion per year, accounting for 24 percent of all city spending.
The reality is, Nutter can only make noises about the budgets of these offices; he has no authority to require cuts.
That's why it's up to Council - and the rest of us - to keep the pressure on. If an unexamined life is not worth living, an unexamined government is not worth having. For a full list of these row offices, see www.ourmoneyphilly.com. *