Marc Stier's blog

An Open Letter to Jim Kenney

Jim,

I have agreed with you that democracy is undermined when, due to a misguided interpretation of the US Constitution, millionaires can spend unlimited sums of money in support of their own political campaign.

That is not the issue here.

The issue is how to deal with this problem.

There are alternatives to simply kicking over the apple cart and abandoning the principle that campaign contributions should be limited.

One alternative is to gradually escalate the amount people can contribute to the campaigns of the other candidates when one candidate gives his campaign substantial sums of money. This is the approach taken by the McCain-Finegold Act in federal campaigns.

Don’t Break It Again! Fix it!

Campaign finance reform is only one, limited way, of fixing our broken politics. But it is one we have to save.

If, however, we look at all the goals of campaign finance reform, we will see that the folks concerned about Tom Knox’s ability to spend much more out of his own pocket than other candidates can raise and spend is a serious problem. But there are ways of fixing that problem now that would improve our campaign financing system rather than taking us back to the dark ages.

Politics as a Spiritual Quest

I'm reposting this from my blog. It should be obvious why I think it belongs here as well.

I have been talking on the campaign trail about creating a politics of hope in Philadelphia.

I mean a few things by that phrase.

What Would a Twenty-first Century Transit System Look Like?

Here are some ideas about what a 21st century transit system would look like in Philadelphia. Please add your own.
We should, I think:

Create an electronic fare system that automatically gives riders the best fare, that encourages efficient use of the system, and that enables shoppers to get on and off buses and trolleys in the commercial corridors in their neighborhood as much as they want for one low fare.

Build a new transit line running up the Roosevelt Boulevard Even conservative projections show that this line would have very high ridership and would reduce congestion and accidents on the Boulevard.

Convert commuter rail to light rail. Light rail cars have large doors and the platforms are at car level. And they accelerate and decelerate much faster than heavy rail. This could save four minutes per stop. That doesn’t sound like much, but add up all the stops and all the trains and this would allow us to run trains every fifteen to twenty minutes, to open up new stations in the city, and to run express lines to the suburbs.

What Would a Twentieth Century Transit System Look Like?

This year I think the Pennsylvania Transit Coalition is not going to focus just on getting funding for public transit but on improving the system.

So I’d like to start two open threads. This one is a request for small ideas that SEPTA could adopt to make its service better. The next one is on the big thinks that SEPTA could do.

Here is one example of a useful small change: SEPTA never consults its passengers on scheduling. During the last transit crisis, I heard, more than once, about a situation in which workers get off duty at, say 11:55 and yet the bus they need to get come comes at 11:53, forcing them to wait a half hour for the next bus. Why can’t they survey passengers and adjust these schedules?

Other ideas?

A Regional Tax Swap?

One of the major problems with politics in Philadelphia is that it is focused just on Philadelphia. However many of the most important problems we face are regional in nature. Our public transit system is clearly a regional problem. So is economic development and job growth. It is not just Philadelphia but the whole region that has been growing slowly. And many environmental problems, especially the loss of open land, are regional as well.

Why Regional Cooperation is So Hard

Solving these problems requires regional cooperation. The only government capable of leading the way to solutions is the 800 pound gorilla of the region, the City of Philadelphia. A critical barrier to such leadership—aside from the inability of our political elite to lead on any issue is that suburbanites will not trust leadership from the city until we reform our politics. (That is not to say that pay to play and other forms of corruption are never found in the suburbs. They certainly are.)

The Fight for Transit Funding Continues — and the PTC is Back

The Money Is Running Out

In the spring of 2005, thanks in large part to the efforts of everyone who worked with the Pennsylvania Transit Coalition, Governor Rendell transferred (or, in transit-speak) flexed, hundreds of millions of dollars of federal highway funds to save public transit in Pennsylvania.

The money runs out in December 2006. SEPTA is facing a $37 billion dollar deficit in its current fiscal year (2007), which ends on June 30, 2007. Other transit agencies around the state have similar difficulties. These difficulties continue into the future. Current projections suggest that SEPTA's deficit for fiscal year 2008 will be $150 million with increases in the deficit of about $50 million in each subsequent year.

How We Got Here

In 2005, SEPTA was facing massive operating deficits and was threatening to reduce transit service by about 20% and to raise fares by about 25%.

Pay to play 14 Reform 0

By a vote of 14-0, City Council today gutted the campaign finance laws that were enacted a few years ago. Contribution limits of $2500 for an individual and $10,000 for a PAC will now kick in when a candidate declares his or her candidacy or files nominting petitions, that is, as late as March of an election year. There will be no limitations prior to that time. And as I have pointed out, there is a massive loophole that will allow money above the limits to be spent even after they go into effect.

Wilson Goode did not introduce an amendment to have the contribution limits begin when a candidate begins raising money for his or her campaign.

I was not there because I teach Thursday mornings at Temple. But I understand that there was no debate at all.

Help Save Campaign Finance Reform

This week City Council will consider Bill No. 060629, which in its unamended form would gut the city’s limits on campaign contributions and be a major step backwards in the effort to reform politics in Philadelphia. You can help stop 60629—or even better, have it improved by amendment—by signing a petition at http://www.stier.net/campaign_finance.htm. which will be delivered to your Council members Thursday morning.

Bill 60629, which is sponsored by Councilman Goode, would, in its original form, define a candidate as someone who has filed nominating petitions or declared his or her candidacy for office. The result would be that there would be no limits on how much money a candidate could raise before early March of an election year. (See below for information about an amendment Goode proposed today that may fix this problem)

A Major Victory?

I’m not quite ready to declare victory tonight. But if we can believe the press release that is now appearing on Senator Fumo’s website, wwww.fumo.com, —and if the Senate and House follow the Senator’s recommendations—then progressives and casino activists in the city are about to win a major victory, local control over zoning at the casino sites.

The press release on the website reads, in part:

“Residents of neighborhoods that are near the potential casino sites have raised some very legitimate concerns about the impact on their communities,” Fumo said. “I also had legitimate concerns about how local zoning ordinances might be used unfairly to place unnecessary obstructions in the way of casinos.

“But because of the strong community opposition, I am willing to try local control.

Entering Las Vegas? Stop SB 862

Those of us who care about the Delaware riverfront have been saying for years that we need a comprehensive plan for its development. After a long delay, Mayor Street recently created a good planning process for the Delaware Riverfront, that includes both community representatives and one of the best team of planning professionals in the city.

However, that planning process may become moot because the future of the Delaware Riverfront may be determined in the next five legislative days in Harrisburg when Senate Bill 862 is considered by the House of Representatives. And it looks like the sponsors of SB 862 have had a plan for the waterfront all along, to recreate the Las Vega Strip on it.

You can help stop it if you go to to http://www.hallwatch.org/faxbank/sb862. Please do it today as action on this bill is imminent in the House.

Our Breakfast With Congressman Brady

Note: This is reposted from my blog, www.stier.net. Given that Ray’s post here talked about meeting with Congressman Brady, I thought it might be useful to repost it at YPP.

News that a group of progressive activists (and some bloggers) from Neighborhood Networks, Philly for Change, the African American Heritage Coalition, the Latino community and Philadelphians Against Santorum, met with Congressman Bob Brady on Friday is beginning to appear on some blogs. I considered the meeting off the record, so I’m not going to report on it in detail. But I do think I can give my general impressions of the meeting without violating any confidences, on either side.

The first thing to be said is that, in a different kind of setting, Congressman Brady’s performance would have received a standing ovation. Over the last few years I have met most of the leading politicians in the city. There are politicians in this city who can give a better speech, politicians who are better organizers of issue movements, and politicians who have more visionary ideas about public policy. But there is no one I have met, in Philadelphia or anywhere else for that matter, who is better in this kind of close in, hand to hand, small group debate. Congressman Brady was charming, articulate, incredibly quick on his feet, and well prepared. He told us funny stories that helped us understand politics as he sees it. He is simply impossible not to like.

Political Disaster Strikes City

The City of Philadelphia suffered a disaster this week. It was not a natural disaster or an act of terrorism, but a disaster created by our political leaders.

Recent rulings by Philadelphia Common Pleas Judges have undermined the right of community organizations and neighborhood groups to appeal variances granted by the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA). As a result, the right of these organizations and groups to even appear in front of the Zoning Board has been called into question.

THE IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNITY ORGANIZATION PARTICIPATION AT THE ZBA

Community organizations and civic associations in Philadelphia have long used the zoning process to stop development that threatens the quality of life of their neighborhoods. By opposing variances at the ZBA, community groups have forced developers to negotiate with them and to modify their projects to better fit their neighborhoods. And, when the Zoning Board of Adjustment has ruled against them without any legal justification, they have gone to court to have those decisions overturned.

Coming Attractions: Inclusionary Housing Rally Tomorrow

I don’t usually cross post here and on my own blog, but I want to tell a wider audience about a very important progressive development.

One of the most interesting ideas for neighborhood development is coming to Philadelphia—Inclusionary Housing. It is being brought to you by a new alliance, the Campaign for Housing Justice.
You can be there for the premiere if you come to a

Rally for Housing Justice
Tomorrow, Thursday, June 14
9:30 at the Clothespin (15th and Market).

Inclusionary Housing is a policy that requires residential developers who are getting a tax break, zoning variance or other benefit from the city to provide affordable housing in return. Developers of large projects are required to set aside a certain percentage of their units for affordable housing. Developers of small projects are required to contribute to a fund for affordable housing, such as our Housing Trust Fund.

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