The budget Mayor Nutter presents to City Council on Thursday is likely to be the picture of bland stability, without tax hikes or major program cuts.
Then the excitement begins.
Five days after the city's Democratic mayor delivers his budget address, Pennsylvania's new Republican governor will lay out his own budget. Gov. Corbett must confront a deficit estimated at up to $4 billion, and he has indicated that he will cut his way out.
Philadelphia, where tax revenues have stabilized after more than two years of economic downturn, will almost certainly feel Corbett's sting. That's when Nutter and City Council likely will have to wield their own hatchet.
Top Nutter administration officials briefed Council members Tuesday on the bones of the 2011-2012 budget, and made it clear that the city would not eliminate programs based on theoretical state cuts.
Instead, the budget should look much like the $3.8 billion blueprint for the current fiscal year, assuming about the same level of state funding, $575 million, as the city is line to receive this year.
City Finance Director Rob Dubow, mayoral Chief of Staff Clay Armbrister, and Budget Director Rebecca Rhynhart met with Council members in three separate briefings Tuesday. It has become Nutter's custom to brief Council that way to avoid violating the state Sunshine Act, which could apply to a meeting with more than half of Council's 17 members at one time.
Council members spoke only on condition of anonymity because the briefings were private.
With tax revenues projected to come in more than $84 million over the budgeted amount for the current fiscal year ending June 30, Nutter said times have improved since the downturn first hit in 2008.
"We are nowhere out of the woods," he said, "but we are moving forward."
Revenues have been boosted by wage, business, and sales taxes, signs of an improving economy, though they have been offset by increases in costs such as snow removal and Fire Department overtime. Everett Gillison, deputy mayor for public safety, said there was a "strong possibility" that rolling brownouts - the temporary deactivation of fire companies - would continue, though he was looking for savings in the prisons that could allow him to reduce or eliminate the closings, which generally last for one shift at a time and alternate among companies.
Nutter spoke after announcing that the city had raised enough private funds to keep all 73 public swimming pools open this summer - a far cry from two years ago, when the city's financial crunch left him making the difficult choice to open just 46 pools.
That decision still gnaws at the mayor; he choked up recalling the closures at Tuesday's news conference, with two dozen city children occupying two rows in front of him. "It really hurts, to be honest, to not be able to do some of the things we want to do," he said.
Also showing the city was "turning the corner," as Nutter put it, the mayor said he expected a new police class. City officials expect to have a class of at least 100 police recruits in 2011-12 after canceling two classes scheduled for the 2010-2011 budget.
The city still faces what Nutter called a triple threat: deep funding cuts by the state and federal government, and a deficit of more than $400 million in the School District's budget.
Three Council members interviewed said the administration did not indicate whether the School District would be asking for additional support from the city, as has been previously reported.
Nutter and other big-city mayors have been lobbying against proposed federal funding cuts that, Nutter said, could cost the city up to $149 million.
The federal cuts would impact programs mostly outside the city's general-fund budget, from community development block grants to the Philadelphia Housing Authority to transportation funding reserved for the remaking of City Hall's Dilworth Plaza, among other projects.
"I don't know what the federal government is going to do. I don't know what the state government is going to do," the mayor said. "I know what we are going to do - invest in this city."
Among those anxious to hear what the mayor has to say Thursday are the leaders of two city unions whose contracts expired more than two years ago.
"For four years, we haven't had any increases in our health care," said Herman "Pete" Matthews, president of District Council 33, the city's largest union, representing 9,000 blue-collar workers.
Under collective-bargaining agreements that remain in force, the city contributes a certain amount of money per worker per month into the unions' health care funds. But that figure has not changed with no new agreement approved.
"He didn't think we could survive with our health care, but we have," Matthews said.
Cathy Scott, president of District Council 47, which represents white-collar city workers, said she expected to meet with the Mayor Wednesday to be briefed on his budget message. Scott is also scheduled to testify at a City Council hearing Wednesday about contracted city services.
Scott said her union would "continue to raise the issue of how the city can raise money in not contracting out as much as they are now."