The Brief: Airlines to Spend Up to $2 Billion More on PHL Improvements

A new 5-7 year lease agreement between the city and the airlines also includes a new $12 minimum wage for all airport workers.

1. A new lease agreement between airlines and the City of Philadelphia secures an additional $1.3-$2.1 billion in new airline spending at the airport and a $12 minimum for all PHL employees.

The gist: It took two years, but the city and the airlines operating out of Philadelphia International Airport have a new deal. It’ll last between five and seven years. Mayor Nutter signed off on it yesterday. The total overall value of the deal comes to $2.8 billion – $4 billion (depending on how long it runs), which includes as much as $2.1 billion in payments above and beyond the last deal, Wendy Ruderman reports for the Daily News.

By law, all that extra cash must be spent at the airport itself (sorry, schools). About $158 million is set aside for capital improvements at the airport, and as much as $750 million more could be spent on a single as-yet unannounced mega project. The rest will help the airlines “modernize operations,” though it’s not clear from the coverage what that means, exactly.

The big political stumbling block that was cleared in this deal is the requirement of a new $12 minimum wage for all airport employees, including those who work for the airlines through subcontractors. Securing that was a priority for City Council, which refused to sign off on an agreement that didn’t include that provision.

Why it matters: We don’t tend to think of it this way, but Philadelphia International Airport is one of the city’s most valuable assets. Publicly owned, but funded entirely through user fees and not tax dollars, the airport’s role in the local economy is immense. It directly employs nearly 8,000 workers, and the city estimates its broader economic impact generates $14.4 billion in annual spending in the region.

And yet, the airport’s reputation among travelers is … poor. This deal should help improve the traveler experience at least around the margins, and potentially more than that.

The minimum wage provision, meanwhile, is a huge win for labor (which is looking to organize a bunch of new airport workers) and for the living wage movement generally. Some workers had been earning as little as $7.25 an hour plus tips.

2. Chris Christie announces his presidential run, the reporters who know him best tell the world he’s a lying, divisive figure who has tanked New Jersey’s economy.

The gist: No local boosterism here. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christielies with conviction. His hands don’t shake, and his eyes don’t wander.” It’s possible he’d start World War III, if elected president. He’s “callow.” And he walks a “fine line between tough talk and bullying.” That’s just a sampling of local political coverage of Christie’s presidential campaign launch.

Why it matters: This sort of skepticism began to crop up in the Christie press corps pretty quickly. The national press corps was enamored of the governor for a while longer, but even there, coverage of his bid is being met mostly with indifferent shrugs. If you think press treatment of candidates matters, then all this suggests Christie’s bid is in serious trouble before it even gets started.

3. City forms new commission on universal pre-kindergarten.

The gist: Mayor Nutter announced the 17-members of a new commission tasked with figuring out how to bring universal pre-kindergarten to Philadelphia yesterday. Their biggest job? Figuring out how to pay for it, reports Bill Hangley for Newsworks.

City officials are counting on the state for much of the funding. and Gov. Tom Wolf has requested about $100 million in this year’s budget to support pre-K programs. But Harrisburg Republicans are proposing a much more modest increase of about $25 million.

Laying out a plan for financing the city’s effort will be a key aspect of the commission’s work, Easterling said.

The commission’s report is due in the spring.

Why it matters: Momentum is clearly building for some sort of expanded pre-k services in Philadelphia. Youth advocates have marshaled a ton of evidence showing that early education can help stave off a host of developmental problems, and cities from New York to Chicago to Seattle to Boston are working to bring universal pre-k to town (some already have). On top of that, Democratic mayoral nominee Jim Kenney has made expanded pre-k a centerpiece of his platform. Now just to figure out how to pay for it.

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