A coalition of city business and political leaders led by Center City District President and CEO Paul Levy and Brandywine Realty Trust President and CEO Gerard Sweeney have long called for the city to lower its business and wage taxes to create more jobs. Under the Levy-Sweeney plan, they city would increase the property tax rate exclusively on commercial real estate, leaving residential tax rates alone, essentially putting a down payment on the city’s jobs growth. And last year, state lawmakers even moved toward altering the state constitution to let Philly levy taxes in this way.
While the tax overhaul plan has garnered support from Mayor Kenney and organizations like the African American and Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, Dougherty’s Local 98, and SEIU 32BJ, City Council President Darrell Clarke remains an adversary of the plan and now the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce recently voted to oppose SB 41, the bill that would alter Pennsylvania’s uniformity clause to let Philly tax commercial and residential properties at different rates as long as it matches the increase with a reduction in the wage and business taxes. Read more »
In 2002, student activists locked arms outside of the building where the Philadelphia School Reform Commission was set to announce which companies and nonprofit groups would be given control of some 75 schools in the district. | Photo by Brad C. Bower/AP
The School Reform Commission is astonishingly unpopular in Philadelphia: Only 11 percent of residents think it should exist. Donald Trump has more support than that here!
And it’s been like this since the beginning: When the SRC was created in 2001 as a compromise between Mayor John Street and Republican leaders in Harrisburg, education activists were furious. The deal gave the governor the ability to appoint three members to the SRC, while the mayor only got two — and it led to the turnover of several local schools to a for-profit company. “In the first few months, their meetings were incredibly raucous. People would yell at the chairman,” says Paul Socolar, who was editor of the Public School Notebook at the time. “There was a view that it was a takeover being engineered to put the GOP’s buddies in charge of the school district.”
But for the last 15 years, the legions of SRC critics had no real chance of abolishing it — until now. Read more »
Photo by Jeff Fusco
Two members of Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission, the appointed body that serves in place of an elected school board, have announced that they will resign.
Marjorie Neff, a former principal at Masterman High School who was appointed to the SRC by former Mayor Michael Nutter in 2014 and made chair of the commission by Gov. Tom Wolf last year, will resign effective November 3rd. Feather Houstoun, who was appointed by former governor Tom Corbett in 2011, will serve until October 14th. Their terms were set to expire in January. A third commissioner, Sylvia Simms, has a term that expires early next year as well. Read more »
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign rally at West Philadelphia High School on Tuesday | Photo: Dan McQuade
After a voter registration drive and policy speech in Philadelphia Tuesday, Hillary Clinton’s campaign launched “Pennsylvania African Americans for Hillary” on Wednesday. Included in the announcement was a list of the leadership council for the initiative, made up of people from across the state.
The group includes a number of Philly-area politicians and activists, including City Council President Darrell Clarke, Council members Cindy Bass, Jannie Blackwell, Derek Green, Kenyatta Johnson, Curtis Jones, Jr., and Blondell Reynolds-Brown; State Reps Jordan Harris and Dwight Evans; Former Mayors John Street and Michael Nutter; and activist/political consultant Malcolm Kenyatta.
The full list can be seen here. Read more »
Sheriff Jewell Williams (left) demonstrates how to use a gun lock while District Attorney Seth Williams (center) and City Council President Darrell Clarke (look on).
Did you hear the great news?
Philadelphia got through the Democratic National Convention in one piece, proving once again that it can host Big Events every bit as well as some of the nation’s other largest cities. Self-congratulatory pats on the back for everybody!
But … hang on for a second. As much as we’d love to hammer another nail in the coffin that holds the city’s generations-old inferiority complex, we still have major quality-of-life issues that will linger long after the last multi-colored donkey is removed. Like youth gun violence, for instance.
Read more »
Last week, Hillary Clinton’s campaign opened its first field office in North Philadelphia, near Broad Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue.
City Council President Darrell Clarke spoke at that opening, and he spoke at length (well, 90 seconds) about Donald Trump while rallying the troops. We here at Philadelphia magazine figured you might enjoy that 90 seconds, so we made a supercut of all of Clarke’s comments about Trump. Enjoy!
For years, a chorus of business leaders and policy wonks has been singing the same tune: The business and wage taxes in Philadelphia are too high, and they drive jobs to the suburbs.
It’s been a loud, harmonious chorus. It’s rare to find someone who disagrees. Opinions diverge, though, when the conversation turns to solutions. City government can’t easily lower business taxes, not with a huge hole in the pension fund and a school district perpetually starved for every dime of revenue it can get. And City Council is loath to again raise taxes on homeowners, an entrenched constituency that feels like the go-to source for revenue every time the city needs more cash.
But a remarkable thing happened earlier this month. State lawmakers took the first step toward allowing Philly to raise taxes on commercial properties without having to raise taxes on residential properties, too, as long as it matches the increase with a reduction in the wage and business taxes. It would be the first hole in the part of the state constitution known as the “uniformity clause,” which requires Pennsylvania cities to tax all real estate properties at the same rate. Read more »
Photo | Jim Kenney
Mayor Jim Kenney hosted a press conference on Monday to announce the first nine community schools, which the city hopes to transform from education-only facilities to multipurpose community services centers over the course of the next year.
The first nine schools are located in South, Southwest, North, and Northwest Philly. The Mayor’s Office of Education selected the first cohort of schools from a number of applications, using input from residents at community meetings and neighborhood health and safety data. Five of the schools in the first round exceed the citywide rates for child poverty, asthma, obesity, and diabetes. Five schools are also located in police districts with the highest rates of gun violence and four schools have 20 percent or more ESL students. Read more »
Clockwise: Union leader John Dougherty, Mayor Jim Kenney, Council President Darrell Clarke and soda mogul Harold Honickman. | Photos by Jeff Fusco, iStock.com and HughE Dillon
One of the longest and most expensive political wars in recent Philadelphia history has come to an end. On Thursday, City Council voted 13-4 to enact a tax on sugary drinks and diet sodas. The American Beverage Association has spent nearly $5 million since March to flood the airwaves with anti-soda tax ads. But even that doesn’t capture the full scope of the soda industry group’s spending: It worked diligently to fight off a soda tax since 2010 — when former Mayor Michael Nutter first floated the idea — by lobbying Council members and donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to political campaigns.
This year, though, the soda lobby’s deep pockets weren’t enough to kill Mayor Jim Kenney’s proposed tax. In the end, only Democrat Maria Quiñones-Sánchez and Republicans David Oh, Brian O’Neill and Al Taubenberger voted against the 1.5-cents-per-ounce tax on Thursday.
Philadelphia is the biggest city in the United States to approve a soda tax. The only other city in the country with a sugary drinks tax is Berkeley, California. Here, the levy will fund expanded pre-K, community schools, and an overhaul of the parks system, among other things. These are the biggest winners and losers in the city’s years-long battle over the soda tax:
1. Jim Kenney
This is a career-defining victory for Kenney. The mayor took on one of the most powerful lobbies in the United States and won, which has boosted his national profile and proven that he has a critical number of allies on City Council. The fact that the soda tax will help pay for the renovation of the city’s parks, libraries and recreation centers — and that the administration will determine how to divvy up that spending with district Council members — means that Kenney could potentially have favors to give out for years to come. But how much political capital has the mayor spent in the fight over the soda tax? We may soon find out: District Council 33’s labor contract expires on June 30th. The city’s blue-collar union was one of the many groups that supported the mayor’s soda tax, which could make it more difficult for him to negotiate with it.
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Photo by Jeff Fusco
For years, Philadelphians saw government dysfunction everywhere they looked. In City Hall, former Mayor Michael Nutter was so impotent that he couldn’t persuade a single Council member to introduce his bill to privatize Philadelphia Gas Works, let alone hold a hearing on the plan or (gasp!) approve it. And in Harrisburg, it took Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican legislature nine months to do their most basic job, i.e. agree on a budget.
It’s almost sadly poetic: The same place where American democracy was born was where you could best see it falling apart.
That’s why it’s so extraordinary that Philadelphia City Council is expected to pass a soda tax this week in order to fund Mayor Jim Kenney’s major initiatives: expanded pre-K, community schools, and an overhaul of the parks system. The soda industry spent nearly $3 million to defeat Kenney’s proposed levy on soda, flooding the airwaves with anti-tax ads and stuffing politicians’ campaign coffers with cash. Council President Darrell Clarke did Kenney no favors throughout the last few months, calling a 3-cents-per-ounce tax “ridiculous” and “divisive.” History was also working against Kenney: Council had twice crushed plans by Nutter to create a soda tax, and the beverage lobby had a 45-1 record of killing proposed soda taxes throughout the country.
But in the end, Council hammered out a landmark deal with the Kenney administration, giving preliminary approval to a 1.5-cents-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks and diet soda. The fact that Kenney took on one of the strongest lobbies in the United States and won — and that the once all-powerful Clarke was, at times, working against him — shows that the mayor is a skilled politician who has enough votes on Council to pass ambitious, controversial proposals. This means Kenney could potentially get a lot done over the next three-and-a-half years. His victory also serves as a reminder of the unsavory things that are sometimes required to make government work: arm-twisting, special interests, and, of course, lots of money. Read more »