PHILADELPHIA, SEPT. 24 -- The city faces a $206 million deficit by June 30, and Wall Street has turned up its nose at short-term notes to keep the city's bills paid through May.
On Friday, Mayor W. Wilson Goode (D) announced a hiring freeze and delays in pension-fund payments and tax refunds, freeing $122 million, but Philadelphia still expects to go broke by Dec. 1.
"If Philadelphia has even a temporary period without sufficient cash, the result will be a legal, political and public-safety nightmare," Finance Director Betsy C. Reveal told Goode in a recent memo.
Political and business leaders are calling for a consensus, but state elections this year and city elections next year seem to have stifled creativity.
No invited city or state officials joined a Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce summit on the crisis last week, except Goode and the city's elected controller, Jonathan A. Saidel. Several elected officials, including Gov. Robert P. Casey (D), sent representatives.
"The only consensus you can get out of people in an election year is that 'it's not my fault, it's his fault,' " Saidel said at an earlier luncheon with community leaders.
Earlier this month, the city could not find banks to guarantee the notes, and Wall Street showed little interest. Bond-rating services rate Philadelphia's $1.3 billion in outstanding debt as risky as junk bonds.
Goode had warned for years that the city's finances were shaky, saying in 1989 that a tax increase was needed to avoid a $305 million deficit by mid-1991.
Several tax increases he has proposed have stalled in the City Council or the Legislature. State voters rejected a tax-reform measure in 1989 that would have given Philadelphia an option for a sales tax.
No mandate for major change is apparent.
"I don't sense that the great majority of folk in Philadelphia yet realize the seriousness of the problem," said John B. Neff, president of Frankford Hospital. "So long as they're not personally affected by it -- inertia's a wonderful thing -- it could go on forever."