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Philly Property Taxes

Dave Davies wrote this excellent piece on a tax estimator I prepared. http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/off-mic/item/38850

My comment to it as follows: Transparency & PA Constitution — Bill Green 2012-05-21 22:57
In addition to Dave's much better summary than my own I would add the following. The public should have enough knowledge about what the administration proposes to form an opinion. They really had no data without the spreadsheet. I don't predict what people will think about the data. It may well be that knowing the best and worst case people want AVI. I would argue putting bounds on it may be helpful although I am not making a judgement about whether or not it will be. Openness and transparency and adequate time for active citizen engagement should be our touchstone for anything this important. It was missing.

Also, we are the only major city in the country to not have the ability to tax residential properties at a different rate from commercial and industrial properties due to the uniformity clause of the PA constitution. The use and occupancy tax is the work around. It does not make us less competitive. The business taxes we have, especially the 6.5% net income tax DESTROY JOBS.

Finally, if the numbers I have are wrong, I will change my conclusion. I make decisions on data and evidence. If the data is different, my conclusion will be. I am being asked to act, I am assessing the data I have, I wish I had more data.

To see the release and estimator go to http://www.greenforphiladelphia.com/content/councilman-bill-green-introd...

Uncompensated Care Costs Rise at PA Hospitals

By Chris Lilienthal, Third and State

More than a year ago, the Corbett administration decided to end the state's adultBasic program, which provided affordable health insurance to about 40,000 low-income Pennsylvanians who were unable to obtain coverage from an employer or through other programs.

We worried at the time that many of those newly uninsured would delay treatments until a health condition snowballed into a more serious and costly problem, sending more people to the emergency rooms of our community hospitals.

The Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council released a report this week showing that uncompensated care costs at hospitals did in fact rise in the 2010-11 fiscal year, when adultBasic ended. Uncompensated care totaled $990 million — an 11% increase over the prior year.

Dave Wenner at the Harrisburg Patriot-News has more:    

PA Job Numbers Out, The War On Unemployment Insurance, and Inequality

By Mark Price, Third and State

Happy Sunny Friday, people! Now for the not so good news. The job numbers for Pennsylvania came out Thursday, and the overall picture was somewhat disappointing. The unemployment rate edged down slightly to 7.4% and nonfarm payrolls declined by 600 jobs. Focusing on the jobs data, the biggest loser in April was construction, which shed an eye-popping 5,400 jobs. That is a big swing at a time of year when construction projects should be ramping up. Odds are that loss is driven by sampling error rather than real trends in construction activity. Another troubling stat was the loss of 1,700 jobs in the public sector.

Because monthly data are somewhat erratic, you shouldn't make too much out of any one-month change in employment overall or within a sector. Looking at nonfarm payrolls since October, the jobs picture is somewhat brighter with Pennsylvania adding, on average, 3,900 jobs a month. So Pennsylvania's labor market, like the national labor market, is continuing to recover.

Now for the bad news: if you were hoping the Pennsylvania economy would finally return to full employment by 2015 (remember, the recession started in December 2007), nonfarm payrolls need to grow by about 10,000 jobs a month. So by that metric, we are a long way from fully recovering from the worst recession since the Great Depression.

Pennsylvania Hunger Games Diet: Cash for Corporations, Cuts for Kids

By Mark Price, Third and State

On Tuesday Marty Moss-Coane, the host of WHYY's Radio Times, moderated a question-and-answer session with Governor Tom Corbett at an event sponsored by the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. The Governor ran wild with analogies.

Corbett repeated a folksy analogy to the business suit-and-tie audience, saying that state revenue amounted to an eight-inch pizza pie before the 2008 financial crisis. Now, he said, it’s a six-inch pie “but with the same mouths to feed.”

Moss-Coane noted near the end of the hour-long conversation that Corbett could hear demonstrators beating drums and chanting slogans outside. What would he say to them, she asked.

“I understand that you’re upset because we’ve had to put the state on a diet, for want of a better description,” Corbett said. “I haven’t met anybody who likes to go on diets. It is not easy. It is not what we want to do.”

The Incredible Shrinking Mayor

The city is in a crisis. The School Reform Commission has presented a radical new plan to overturn how education is provided in Philadelphia. The public does not like it. And the SRC is facing the biggest financial crisis in its history while there is growing opposition in Council to the Mayor’s school funding proposal.

But, except for a brief statement in which the Mayor called on Council members to “grow up” and pass his tax plan, the Mayor has barely been seen or heard from in the last two weeks.

Something clearly is wrong. Mayor Nutter has never been reluctant to appear before notepads and cameras and speak out. Indeed, turning the press to his advantage has always been one of the Mayor’s strengths. It is a strength that has grown ever since the city bailed out the Inquirer and Daily News.

But now, after weeks of dogged work—and the mysterious appearance of the Mayor’s medical file in my inbox—I can reveal the extraordinary story that the Mayor’s office has been trying to hide.

The Mayor is too small. As I write this, he is quite literally shrinking.

When I first heard a disaffected former aide to the Mayor say this, I thought it was a metaphor. Perhaps it was a comment on the Mayor’s reluctance to take a risk or stand up for what he believes in a difficult fight. Or maybe it was a comment on his not actually having any deep beliefs for which he would put his career on the line.

But the startling truth is that it’s not a metaphor at all. The Mayor has been quite literally shrinking over the last few months as the schools crisis has grown. By some accounts, The Mayor is now barely an inch or two above five feet tall.

This is not a recent problem. The Mayor’s staff has long been aware that he is afflicted with a bizarre medical problem: he becomes larger and smaller depending on how much popular support he has at any one moment.

Multi-tasking with the 1% … killing the schools AND making the poor pay for their funeral.

I showed here how we could raise $94 million for the School District from the property tax, as requested by the Mayor, and sequester it until the SRC abandons its privatization plan. But is the property tax the best place to get the money? If the City raised the $94 million from some other source, it could still sequester it until the SRC sees the light.

The 1% generally likes the property tax. It’s a regressive tax that falls most heavily on people who are property-rich, cash poor. How sweet it would be to make poor and working people not only pay more, but to make them pay more for destruction of one of their greatest assets, the public school system.

There has been dispute, however, whether a property tax increase as it’s been packaged this year would indeed hit poor people the hardest.

Some progressives think that a property tax increase this year would not be regressive because it would emerge out of the AVI initiative intended to correct the massive inequities in City property assessments. But even if assessments were accurate, and didn’t under-value richer neighborhoods, poor property owners would still get hit hardest from tax rate increases. It’s just the nature of the property tax. It taxes at a single rate that the rich can pay much easier than the poor.

AVI, if done right, is a good thing. Increasing rates, however, to generate more revenue from the tax, might still not be.

Council Can Give the SRC the Money to NOT Privatize the System

Helen and Dan have laid bare the SRC’s plan to kill public education and to use the Mayor’s AVI initiative to fund the murder to the tune of $94 million. I have nothing to add to their brilliant exposure of the crime scene. However I do want to point out that Council does not have to collaborate. In fact Council can help prevent the sell-off of the School District through a simple carrot and stick approach.

All it has to do is sequester the $94 million and hold it back until the community gets what it wants and deserves.

Here’s how Council can do that:

1) Amend the pending Operating Budget Bill to appropriate $94 million to the City’s Sinking Fund Commission, a traditional place for parking money intended to be used later for other purposes. Putting the $94 million there would mean the School District couldn’t get it until Council passed another ordinance approving its transfer later in the year.

2) Amend the Mayor’s AVI bill to shift the revenue targets so that the City is getting $94 million more (the money that would go to the Sinking Fund) and the School District $94 million less.

3) Work with labor and the community to come up with a plan that works to keep the School District public and thriving, and refuse to send the $94 million until the SRC goes along.

What if the SRC doesn’t meet our demands by the end of the next fiscal year and insists on going forward with its fun and games? Well, then the $94 million would merge back into the City’s General Fund to be allocated the following year either for other purposes or to enable tax rates to be reduced. Or it could be used next year to reduce the pain from the Governor's social services cuts.

That’s it. It’s not rocket science; it’s just about Council’s sincerity in opposing the privatization of the District. They can fight it if they want.

Predatory Payday Lending Bill Flies Out of Cramped PA House Committee

By Mark Price, Third and State

Room 148 of the State Capitol might as well double as a Capitol broom closet. That's where the House Consumer Affairs Committee this morning rushed out amendments to House Bill 2191, which legalizes predatory payday lending in Pennsylvania.

The amendments to HB 2191 were misleadingly pitched as adding more consumer protections to the bill. Even the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society took a look at these amendments and said they do "nothing to mitigate the already harmful aspects of HB 2191," and that one amendment "actually worsens the problem it claims to solve."

One focus of the amendments this morning was language banning renewals or rollovers of a payday loan, as if that was a solution to stopping the long-term cycle of debt. It is not.

Let the Games Begin: PA Senate Announces Details of Budget Proposal

By Sharon Ward, Third and State

Action on the state budget began in earnest Monday with state Senator Jake Corman, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, releasing important details on the Senate budget plan that will be advanced this week.

The proposal would increase Governor Tom Corbett's budget proposal by $500 million, with total spending rising from $27.15 billion to $27.65 billion for 2012-13. The Senate plan rejects $191 million in fund transfers and new revenue and proposes new spending cuts of $165 million. Those spending reductions were not yet detailed.

According to a Capitolwire.com report (subscription required), the Senate budget plan:

Good News on PA Revenue But Don’t Count Your Blessings Just Yet

By Sharon Ward, Third and State

Pennsylvania’s Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) released its revenue estimate this week, offering a more upbeat view of the economy moving forward. The official revenue estimate predicts a smaller revenue shortfall for the current year and more robust revenue collections for 2012-13.

The IFO estimate leaves the General Assembly with as much as $800 million available to restore cuts proposed by the Governor. This is clearly good news, but both the Corbett administration and legislative leaders are already dampening expectations about the scale of funding restorations.

A Look at the Numbers 

In the current 2011-12 fiscal year, the Corbett budget pegged revenue at $27.1 billion, with a revenue shortfall of $719 million. The IFO estimates revenue collections will be $419 million higher, at $27.5 billion and a shortfall of $300 million for the fiscal year. With $700 million in current-year reserves, this leaves an actual year-end surplus of around $400 million.

In the 2012-13 fiscal year, the IFO predicts revenue at $28.7 billion. This is approximately $404 million higher than the Corbett budget (the IFO excludes $142 million in new revenue sources proposed by the Governor in his budget plan, since those measures have not yet been enacted). See a table with more details.

Defeat Corbett

I think everyone agrees Tom Corbett must be defeated. This is no easy task as Pennsylvania has a history of reelecting sitting governors.
To change this trend Democrats must create synergy behind their candidate. I believe the best way to do this is to run a women against Corbett. I look forward to reading what others say.

Set off without a Paddle: Unpacking the School District’s Disaster Capitalism

Photo by Louie U-A

Last night, a few more details (and scare tactics) from the School District’s radical plan for Philadelphia schools were released. If you didn’t believe that we were in the throes of disaster capitalism, you should now. Watch how the game is played:

The Philadelphia School District's financial situation is so dire that without a $94 million cash infusion from a proposed city property-reassessment plan, schools might not be able to open in the fall, leaders said Tuesday night.

At a district budget hearing, chief recovery officer Thomas Knudsen stressed that the district might fall off "the cliff on which we now stand so precariously" if swift action is not taken.

The district's money problems, coupled with a lack of academic progress and safety issues, have prompted Knudsen to propose a total overhaul of how schools are organized and run. More students would be shifted to charter schools, and the central office would be shrunk, with district schools managed by staff or outside organizations who bid to run them.

See the connections they make? We have a massive budget hole! Ergo, we need a total overhaul of schools!

There. Is. So. Much. Wrong. With. This. Shit. Where to start?

Yes, the School District has a massive budget hole. Let’s all acknowledge that reality, while also remembering that it seems pointless to totally trust the always shifting numbers that come from a School District that still employs the same financial wizards as during the reign of Arlene Ackerman.

The School District will attempt to fill this massive, mostly state-caused, budget hole through the following ways:

  • Slashing wages and benefits from teachers, cafeteria workers and janitors.
  • Forcing charter schools to take seven percent less money, per child.
  • Scaring City Council into coughing up 94 million dollars more.
  • And, in the end, borrowing. A lot. (They will do this by issuing bonds.)

All told, the ‘true’ deficit that they are making up with the above factors is hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars.

Where does the restructuring of the School District, the closing of 40 schools and moving tens of thousands of kids to charter schools, fit into all of this? Surely, this radical change in the district is also a huge part of the savings?

Nope. Not really. Despite needing to plug this massive, hundreds of millions of dollars big hole, this radical reorganization will save something like 33 million dollars (according to the School District’s questionable numbers). Again, compared to all the rest, borrowing included, which stretch well into the hundreds of millions of dollars, these savings— if they are true— are almost a pittance.

As a parent put it eloquently last night:

Parent Rebecca Poyourow said the district was resorting to "crazy-making" rhetoric and unfairly connecting the reorganization plan with the budget.

"It is at best foolish - and at worst devious - for you to choose this moment of fiscal crisis to foist a poorly conceived and primarily ideological reorganization scheme on Philadelphia schools," Poyourow said. "This move smacks of manipulation."

Again, and again, and again, this needs to be stated: The massive overhaul of our schools and the massive budget deficit are not connected.

So, why are the Mayor and Knudsen connecting these two things?

I can think of at least two possible conclusions. First, the radical changes are simply a long-standing ideological push, led by people who believe markets should solve the puzzle that is urban education. (In this game, the Mayor is anywhere from the person behind the scenes, pushing this along, or, alternatively, someone who is also being taken for a ride.) Maybe it really is that simple.

Or second, maybe Knudsen and Nutter are overseeing a bankrupt district, and want to ‘look good’ for Wall Street. They know they need to borrow money to keep this crippled mess hobbling along, so they are going with what they think will appeal to creditors.

Neither, of course, has anything to do with how we properly educate our children. But, this is the shock doctrine, where logic and reason are but constructs to be shouted down.

So, please, ignore the screaming threats of nuclear Armageddon that Mayor Nutter and Knudsen are making on your porch. Because while they are doing so, your television, your dining room set, and your youngest child are all being carried out the back door.

Want to understand just how horrible the voter ID law is?

Yesterday, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, the Public Interest Law Center, the Homeless Advocacy Project, and others, filed suit against Tom Corbett to stop Pennsylvania's voter ID law:

HARRISBURG - Wartime welder, civil-rights marcher, world traveler, voter - Viviette Applewhite of Philadelphia's Germantown section can boast of having been all those things.

On Tuesday, she added another title: plaintiff.

Applewhite, who is 93 and uses a wheelchair, became the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed here in state court by the ACLU and the NAACP challenging Pennsylvania's new law requiring voters to produce a driver's license or other photo identification before they are allowed to vote.

The complaint (pdf) details in heartbreaking detail the stories of a number of people-- especially the elderly-- who, quite simply, will no longer be allowed to vote, come November.

9. Petitioner Viviette Applewhite, a registered voter in Pennsylvania, is a 92-yearold African-American woman born in 1919 in Philadelphia. A graduate of Germantown High School, Ms. Applewhite worked as a welder during World War II in the Sun Shipyard in Chester, Pennsylvania. She thereafter worked in hotels in Chicago and Philadelphia. Ms. Applewhite married and raised a daughter who for decades worked for various federal, Pennsylvania, and municipal government agencies. Now a widow, Ms. Applewhite has lived in Philadelphia for much of her life, including the past twenty years, and enjoys five grandchildren, nine great grandchildren, and four great-great grandchildren.

School Destruction Video: "If we fail, we will have to console more families who have lost their children to crime and despair."

Last night, as reported by the Notebook, the Inquirer and others, I attended the first (I think) of what will be many mass meetings about the Nutter/Knudsen plan to radically alter public education in the city.

From the Notebook:

Several hundred people gathered at historic Mother Bethel AME Church on Lombard Street Sunday night to decry plans put forward by District staff and consultants to close dozens of schools, expand charters, and reorganize the School District into “achievement networks” primarily run by private entities.

A succession of preachers roused the gathering and put public officials on notice that their voices would be heard before any such radical restructuring would be allowed to take place.

“This system is being designed to fail, and fail our children,” said the Rev. Kevin Johnson of Bright Hope Baptist Church.

The meeting was organized by POWER Philadelphia, a faith-based organizing group doing work around several issues including education. Many of the speakers invoked the language of civil rights and called the plan the new Jim Crow, destined to consign Black and Latino children to permanent second-class educations.

“The most important civil rights issue of our time, that is public education,” said Johnson.

We will have plenty on the substance of this plan, but, for now, watch two preachers lead the crowd at Mother Bethel (video from Techbook Online). The first, Dr. Kevin Johnson, leads one of the more historic churches in our city, Bright Hope Baptist Church.

The second speaker is not, in fact, ordained, but, she is our preacher, and she should look pretty familiar:

Well said.

Should a Starving Child Live Within his Means? What about a Starving School District?

Would the Daily News tell a starving child to live within his means? Would the Mayor say that a child who was facing benefit cuts in already measly food stamps to ‘grow up,’ face reality, and get used to a regular dose of rice, beans, and malnutrition?

Of course not. In fact, in the face of growing attacks on nutrition assistance, politicians across the city are taking on the “Food Stamp Challenge.” The premise of the challenge is to illustrate just how difficult it is for a poor person to feed themselves on $35 a week, and how impossible it would be to function with even less.

Allotted just $35 for a week of food, participants will learn firsthand the anxiety-driven calculus of finding nutrition with nearly no money.

"The benefit is being cut in draconian ways, and we're hoping to make people aware of how limiting the benefit already is," said Carey Morgan, executive director of the Coalition.

....

Nationwide, about $14 billion will be taken out of the food-stamp program, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). That translates into up to $15 a month being excised from an individual's monthly benefits. The average monthly benefit per person in Pennsylvania is $113. In New Jersey, it's around $133.

....

[Congressman Bob] Brady said it was "ludicrous" for people to have to eat on $35 a week, adding, "I'll see what I can get for that money. You can buy a lot of rice, but it's not the healthiest thing to eat. It's pretty difficult."

It is extremely hard to live with little money for food. It is commonsense then, that cutting those benefits, and simply stating that poor people should adjust, is a little inhumane. What if adjusting, while still being able to maintain reasonable nutrition, was simply impossible to do?

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