Bill de Blasio’s Big Ideas
Philadelphia’s well-documented inferiorty complex regarding New York City can often manifest itself as simple imitation. Stop-and-frisk, bike share, elevated train park: These are all ideas that got started — or were popularized — in the Big Apple that later got traction here.
So the ascension of Bill de Blasio to the NYC mayor’s office could be a big deal for Philly — and soon.
De Blasio, you see, isn’t just a Democrat: He’s a real-live liberal, the kind who might actually deserve the “socialist” slur when it’s applied to him. And he’s so determined to fight poverty and income inequality in his city that he should be able to provide a rough guide to Philadelphia and other big cities on what works, what doesn’t, and what’s worth the cost.
Up first? A policy that would allow employees of small businesses to take paid sick leave without losing their jobs. Here in Philadelphia, Mayor Nutter has twice vetoed similar legislation coming out of the Council. Now we might get a chance to get a clearer view of whether such legislation actually works — can it help employees and protect public health, or will it simply drive small firms — restaurants especially — out of business?
The answer will probably determine the result of such proposals in Philly going forward. “A de Blasio mayoralty will be widely viewed as a test case for liberal reformers everywhere,” the New Yorker magazine observed in November.
De Blasio doesn’t seem to shy away from that.
“This City Hall is going to be on the side of working families all over this city,” de Blasio said at a rally for the measure.
Other de Blasio proposals whose effects could spill over into Philadelphia:
• The end of stop-and-frisk? Everybody remembers the turning point in Michael Nutter’s first mayoral campaign: When his daughter, Olivia, appeared in a TV ad talking up her pop’s virtues — including Nutter’s commitment to public schools. de Blasio had a similar moment: His son, Dante — the kid with the giant Afro — decried stop-and-frisk and proclaimed de Blasio’s commitment to “every New Yorker, no matter what they look like.”
New York has had its share of civil legal trouble over stop-and-frisk, as has Philadelphia. De Blasio has vowed a different direction, while Nutter has affirmed the practice here. If stop-and-frisk can go away in New York without crime rates rising, Philadelphia officials will have cover (if they want it) to end the practice.
• Universal pre-kindergarten: De Blasio’s enthusiasm to reduce charter schools in his city may not be matched here, but his efforts to extend pre-K education to all New Yorkers could eventually find their mirror here. Eventually, the Philadelphia School District will have to stop cutting teachers and services; when that happens, a program that provides early, extensive outreach to the city’s kids may loom high on the agenda.
• Taxing the rich. To pay for his proposals — as well as to level New York’s rampant income inequality — de Blasio would raise the city’s income tax rate from 3.9 to 4.4 percent for city residents making more than $500,000 annually.
Which wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen in Philadelphia. As Penn’s Fels Institute for Government pointed out last year, 80 percent of the city’s taxes come from flat taxes — wages, sales, and property taxes — in which a resident making $10,000 a year pays the same rate as a resident making $100,000.
“A typical Philadelphia family making $25,000 pays over 18 percent of its income towards city and state taxes,” the institute pointed out. “Thus, more than almost any city in the country, Philadelphia puts a disproportionate share of its tax burden on low and middle income families.
It’s shocking that Philly’s regressive tax structure hasn’t earned more public ire, in fact. If de Blasio is successful in raising such taxes in New York — home, after all, to the biggest concentration of wealthy people in America — then Philly pols ought to have an easier time making changes here.
Not all of de Blasio’s ideas will work, or even see passage. But the ones that do should find some copycats outside of New York. If his proposals can make it there, they can make it anywhere.
Follow @joelmmathis on Twitter.