Mayor Bill Purcell’s ongoing courtship with the labor voting bloc is winning him some political wiggle room should he need it during the formulation of the city’s budget this spring.
Labor was a constituency Purcell aggressively courted during this summer’s mayoral campaign and a political faction with which he tended to align during his tenure in the state Legislature. That relationship may be of significant help to the new mayor during his first year in office as he and city finance officials pore over the city’s more than $1 billion budget and the 10,000-employee bureaucracy it funds.
In preparation for presenting a new budget to the Metro Council this spring, one realization is becoming increasingly clear: There is very little flexibility, and there isn’t much money to work with.
To make matters worse, the current budget funds the last of a three-year pay increase plan for the city’s workers negotiated under former Mayor Phil Bredesen. To fund any pay increase in next year’s budget would almost certainly require a property tax increase, something Purcell has already said he doesn’t want to do and that the new Metro Council would be reluctant to approve. Bredesen, citizens well remember, raised property taxes three times.
Metro employees can live without another pay increase. They’ve seen them eight years in a row, most of them outpacing the rate of inflation. But that’s another matter altogether. The political question for Purcell is whether he can get away with foregoing a pay hike for employees without suffering a backlash.
While labor leaders say they believe that “fair and appropriate raises” should be part of the Purcell administration’s prioritiesalong with beefing up city services where they’re lackingthere seems to be growing consensus that Purcell won’t lose his political support from labor if he takes a pass on recommending a pay increase next year. But he’ll be expected to come back the following year with a proposal for employee pay raises.
“What I’ve heard is that he’s going to try to prevail on [labor] to wait one year, because it’s not necessarily good to raise taxes in the first year,” one city official says.
At-large Metro Council member Leo Waters, known as one of the legislative body’s most loyal labor supporters, says he doesn’t see an immediate pay hike for Metro workers in the cards. “I would be absolutely amazed if we see a budget come out of the mayor’s office that would include a tax increase to fund employee pay raises,” he says.
Don Driscoll, executive director of the local Service Employees International Union, says his organization is well aware of the formidable task before Purcell. “Obviously, the difficult challenge here for this administration and the Council is to figure out what they want to accomplish in an atmosphere that’s been poisoned by the previous administration’s playing fast and loose with the city’s budget numbers and with its priorities,” Driscoll says of Bredesen’s heavy spending. “Circuses are great, but you’ve got to have bread too.”
While Driscoll doesn’t say explicitly that his organization is prepared to give Purcell a one-year pass, he indicates some flexibility. “I’m confident that Bill Purcell and [Finance Director] David Manning are working very hard right now to figure out what the city has and what the city’s needs are going to be. We expect to work with the mayor and the Council to address all the city’s needs, including the needs of our members, because there’s not much point in giving pay raises if you’re not able to give good services to people.”
By his own admission, Vice President Al Gore has a work ethic problem. A story in the Washington Post this week theorized that Gore, in his pursuit of the presidency, is proudly and openly “dissing” his vice presidential duties. Perhaps it’s some misdirected display of alpha male-ism. Gore couldn’t have confirmed the theory any better when he said, “Running for president of this country is far more important than being the best vice president I can possibly be.”
Metro school board member and failed mayoral candidate Murray Philipknown for the buzzed-cut fashion-accident hairdo that makes him look more like a hit man than an elected officialis going for a new look.
“I’m growing a pony tail. I’m becoming a liberal,” he says. Actually, the bombastic school board member is not becoming a liberal, but Philip is, in fact, letting his locks grow beyond the stiff, stubby length he’s maintained during his elected life.
“I need a new image,” he says. “That other guy is so obnoxious and loud and hard to get along with.”
To reach Liz, call her at 244-7989, ext. 406, or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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