South Philly Barbacoa Has Big Plans for 2017

SPB/Facebook

SPB/Facebook

The freedom fighters at South Philly Barbacoa and PAUWR, Cristina Martinez and Benjamin Miller, are organizing Philly restaurants for a May 1st general strike that will highlight the contributions of undocumented immigrants in the restaurant industry.

The restaurant will be closed on May 1st as part of the planned #ADayWithoutImmigrants strike. And several of the city’s top restaurants have joined them.

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Why SRC Haters Finally Have a Real Shot at Abolishing It

William Deadwyler, left, joins about a dozen students as they lock arms outside Philadelphia's school administration building Wednesday, April 17, 2002, forming a human chain and refusing to allow anyone inside. The Philadelphia School Reform Commission, set to announce which companies and nonprofit groups will be given control of some 75 schools in the district, decided to postpone the meeting for two hours and move it to another building several blocks away rather than make a forced entry. (AP Photo/Brad C. Bower)

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 »

Trump Diehards Love the Wheely Wheely Good Food Truck

Alanna Li and Bailin Chen with their Wheely Wheely Good food truck.

Alanna Li and Bailin Chen with their Wheely Wheely Good food truck.

If you decide to go to the debate-watch party at the Republican City Committee headquarters on Cottman Avenue next week, you might see some familiar faces: the owners of the food truck deemed racist by Philadelphia City Councilwoman and second-generation Korean American Helen Gym. Read more »

Two School Reform Commission Members Resign

School District of Philadelphia

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 »

Pew: Philly Gives Out $200 Million in Business Tax Breaks Every Year

In order to counteract what many see as an overly expensive and intricate business tax structure, Philadelphia has turned to tax credits and special incentives to a degree not seen in most other big cities in the United States, according to a report released by the Pew Charitable Trusts last week.

The city forgoes more than $200 million a year in tax revenue through 21 separate tax-credit programs for businesses, according to the report. The amount of revenue exempted by those programs is growing much faster than the tax base as a whole, Pew found. And while acknowledging that some of the tax incentives have helped businesses create jobs and construct buildings that might not otherwise have existed, Pew concluded — as have so many others who have studied these kinds of tax breaks — that it’s impossible to tell exactly how effective the programs are.  Read more »

Q&A: Helen Gym

Illustration by Andy Friedman

Illustration by Andy Friedman

My name is … Helen Gym. My middle name is Hae-Liun.

I am a … mom, wife and Councilperson, and always trying to figure out how to be all three at the same time. Read more »

How Jim Kenney’s Big Soda Tax Victory Is Upending City Hall

Photo by Jeff Fusco

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 »

Activists: Uber and Lyft Tax Should Fund Philly Schools, Not the PPA

Hannah Sassaman of the Media Mobilizing Project address the Parking Authority. Photo by Jared Brey.

Hannah Sassaman of the Media Mobilizing Project addresses the Parking Authority. | Photo by Jared Brey

Public school advocates packed the Philadelphia Parking Authority’s monthly board meeting on Tuesday to question a change in a state bill that would allow ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft to operate in Philadelphia — and drive a guaranteed fee to the PPA with little or nothing left for the school district.

Philly Mag reported on Monday that the state bill was initially written so that the school district and PPA would share a 1 percent tax on ride-sharing revenues, with two-thirds going to the district and one-third to the PPA. But a version approved by a state House committee earlier in May changed those provisions so that the PPA would be guaranteed a $2 million yearly fee from each of the largest ride-sharing companies, while the schools would get a portion of what’s left over. According to current estimates of how much revenue the tax would generate, it’s unlikely that there would be much, if any, money left for the schools.

“There is no place in this world wherein a new revenue stream should go to the Parking Authority ahead of the school district,” Councilwoman Helen Gym told the board Tuesday morning. Read more »

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