Philadelphia Makes the Right Decisions to Navigate Recession, Improve Bond Rating

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter addressed delegates attending the June 2 general session at GFOA’s annual conference in Philadelphia, speaking about leading the city through the Great Recession.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, who is in the last year of his last term, shared some of what he learned from leading one of America’s great cities.

The Mayor began his administration in 2007 with high hopes, but the Great Recession soon brought him back down to earth. But Nutter was determined that the economic turmoil would not capsize the City of Philadelphia, which began a comprehensive effort to reduce costs and get more from its revenues. The mayor started with leading by example – he took at 10 percent pay cut.  

Philadelphia’s journey through the Great Recession was also one of shared sacrifice. All departments were required to reduce the costs of their operations, although not via the undirected, across-the-board cuts that are common in government. Rather, the mayor’s office worked with departments to identify specific cost-reduction opportunities for each department. In the end, some departments reduced their costs more than others, but everyone contributed.  

As result of all of the city’s efforts, Philadelphia was upgraded to an A bond rating category – the first such upgrade since the 1970s. Of course, the journey wasn’t painless, and many of the decisions made were unpopular. The mayor and his staff were determined to make the right decisions, however, not just the ones that were the most popular. The city’s finance and budget staff were essential to this process, providing the information and support needed to make good decisions.