Brett Mandel's Values Are An Issue

I can't vote for Brett Mandel for Controller. I've said that a few times before on this blog and given reasons. But today I want to explain why Brett can't ever get my vote from a bit of a different angle. And that will require a little digression. I hope you'll bear with me. Because this Controller's race squarely raises the question of what kind of Philadelphia we want to live in.

Brett Mandel wants to cut Philly taxes for all business -- eliminate them really -- because he sees one business as good as any other. He wants to bring as many businesses here as he can, and to assure that once they're here, they stay. I don't.

The truth is that lots of businesses are not worthy of public support. Some offer predatory loans, or other scams that prey on the poor. Some pollute. Some fight labor unions, in dirty ways. Some have lousy health and safety records. Some sell unsafe products, know it and conceal it. Some have destroyed the life savings of working people by getting them to invest in "products" that are nothing more than glorified thin air. Some of them buy politicians, and have bought enough of them so they can stay bought, legally. I could go on, and so could you.

Others businesses are socially responsible. They treat their workers fairly. They treat the air and water with care too. They profit share with organizations that fight for social justice. They lend money to neighborhood start-up firms that conventional lending institutions would reject. They employ neighborhood kids. The best of these companies are developed locally, and are cooperatively run.

The best local business that I know of is Weavers Way Coop of which I am a proud co-owner with several thousand other food shoppers in Northwest Philly. Weavers Way is governed by a Board that is elected by its members, treats its workers with the respect that we would all would want as employees, and provides great, responsive service. And it's growing, opening two new branches in the last year, providing more employment and more locally grown produce to more and more people than ever before. It sees itself as the leading edge of a movement, and so it finds it important to help other coops get off the ground.

And I just came back from Kerala in India. Kerala is home to an amazing tea company, the Kannan Devan Hill Produce Company, that employs almost 13,000 people. For a hundred years or so the company grew by training and employing local villagers who previously had no road out of grinding poverty. Generations of local people have built the company and they are now so competent, confident and capable that they have taken ownership of the company and run it. Kannan Devan provides a superb array of services to its workers, carefully preserves the land around its fields and the things that grow on it, and, from what my taste buds tell me, produces some really awesome tea. The tea is exported all around the world.

But this is not about Weavers' Way or a great tea growing cooperative half way around the planet. It's about how progressives should envision building Philadelphia. The model that is represented by the push to eliminate the BPT is a defeatist model. It says we can't really have the kind of City we want with the kind of jobs we deserve; we have to suspend our notions of corporate responsibility to induce whatever companies that will have us, to locate in the City. The drive to repeal the BPT is just the leading edge of that overarching philosophical approach. There is no rational distinction between "creating a good business climate" by eliminating business taxes, and dismantling every other business regulation. If you accept a tax cutting imperative, you're behind the 8-ball in defending any other corporate imposition. They're all "bad for business."

Now just to be clear; I'm not suggesting that we bar businesses that fail to meet our values from locating here. We just don't have to lay down prostrate before each and every enterprise, good and bad alike. We should let the word go forth that we do have preferences. Those companies that meet our health, safety, environmental and workers rights' standards should get development aid. Those that don't should fend for themselves.

As progressives we're for laws that establish a just and sustainable world. But for so many of us, whether our lives are bearable or not, and whether society is just or not, depends on the character of the business world. Businesses determine the quality of our working lives, they produce what we eat and drink, they alter the air we breathe and the water we drink. They may actually decide if the planet itself lives or dies.

Yet when it comes to "economic development" in Philadelphia, we must throw our own money at businesses that are hard at work sabotaging the kind of world that we want. At least that's what the business elites who run our City tell us we must do, and that's what many of us -- to go by what's been written on this blog -- have come around to support. It makes no sense. It's not just about jobs in Philadelphia. It's about the kind of jobs, the products, the byproducts, and our ethical consistency as a community. It's about the statement we send to the rest of the world about Philadelphia values.

Now clearly, to take a "values-based" approach to economic development would entail some risks. Maybe there aren't enough good and decent businesses out there to employ all of our people. And maybe we can't fill the gap by creating lots of them locally. But is the prevailing model risk-free? As suggested above, we are subjected to personal and social risks every day from loathsome business practices carried out in our town. And it's not as if across the board tax-cutting is a proven job generating tool. Maybe it works at some level, maybe it doesn't. We do know that taxes have been cut locally every year since 1996. And the poverty rate in Philly has continued to soar.

So which is the smarter risk, and the one with the greater upside? Should we be true to ourselves and apply our values to economic development policy, or should we formulate economic development policy with moral blinders firmly in place. To me, the answer is pretty clear. I'm not interested in giving polluters and predators the keys to the City. And, if they come here, they certainly should pay taxes.

And that's why -- yes, I'm getting there -- economic development views are so important in the Controller's race.

Brett Mandel's defenders say the Controller isn't involved in economic development policy. But the fact is that a clever Controller, and Brett is a smart man, can involve himself in any local issue he wants. He audits departments, both from a financial and performance standpoint. That includes the Finance Department, the Revenue Department and the Commerce Department. Within those audit frameworks there is ample opportunity to discuss the City's economic development strategy, and its linkages to how the City raises revenue, and from whom.

Still, it has been said, merely giving Mandel a soapbox to articulate views is not the same as electing him to a position where he can actually implement those views. Council and the Mayor enact taxes, not the Controller. True enough, to a degree. But those of us who write on this blog should be the last, I think, to minimize the impact of an effective platform for communicating opinions. And it was Jonathan Saidel who, as Controller, kicked off the campaign to eliminate the BPT when he issued a proposal calling for a variety of tax "reforms" in 2001. Soon Michael Nutter took up the issue, Council had hearings on it, and the Tax Reform Commission was born. The rest is what we've been wrestling with ever since.

Mandel's defenders also argue that he stands for important, progressive values, wholly apart from economic development concerns. Chief among them is his insistence on government transparency. But Brett has not pushed transparency when it comes to revealing the tax loads borne by different companies in and out of the City of Philadelphia. I'm not going to belabor the record on this point because I've written quite a bit about it before. But I'll just say now that failure to hold corporations to high standards of openness is another logical outgrowth of a lax attitude toward antisocial business behavior. And we simply can't afford to have anyone with that attitude in any high Philadelphia office.

The magic of that reform word is something that truly needs to be analyzed. So many of us are dazzled by it. Mike Nutter was the "reform" candidate for Mayor. But he just engineered a completely closed door negotiation on perhaps the most important City budget deal in a decade, a budget that may still starve neighborhood libraries to death, that jeopardizes the pension fund and hikes the regressive sales tax. His notion of reform also includes a casino in the heart of the City, along with behind the scenes support for increased privatization of the schools. Let's not get overwhelmed by the reform label again. Brett Mandel talks reform, but he is really for more of the same -- a business dominated City agenda that leaves the rest of us behind.


Lou Agre and Stan Shapiro in complete agreement. Mark the day

Dear Stan: Thank you for

Dear Stan:

Thank you for your work.

Very truly yours,

The Status Quo

Thank you Mr. Any Change is Good Change

Not Michael Nutter

Any time.P.S. one thing I

Any time.

P.S. one thing I noticed you did not mentioned in your post is your evaluation of how Mr. Butkovitz actually does his job.

Mr. Status Quo 1
Philadelphians 0

Give me a break

Gaetano, and whoever else may come along: You might think Stan is wrong, but attacking his level of concern with making change is just plain silly. Come on, what status quo does Stan's vision of an 85% tax reduction for small business owners resemble anything close to the norm now? (Not to mention his ultimate redistribution goals;)


Here is what I think: If you

Here is what I think:

If you want to have thoughtful dialogue on the Controller's race, it seems one should discuss what the present controller is doing right and why he deserves to be retained. Otherwise, we're engaging in the politics of personalities, Stan v. Brett, etc., which is the same game played by the those folks who many believe are in need of "change." So I guess what I should be asking Stan is, whether his decision to not vote for Brett is based on anything the current controller is doing or because Stan believes that Mr. Butkovitz is the best person for the job.

Fortunately, "progressive" organizations such as ADA and PFC have spoken. Along with progressive wards like the 8th. These groups had the opportunity to discuss and debate the issue of Brett's stances on issues of concern, while learning a bit about the controller's race, the present controller and the issues the City is facing today.

Brett Mandel is the "progressive" choice for City Controller.

Ray, it's hard to respond

Ray, it's hard to respond when you add stuff.

I think Stan's notion of change is vastly different than my own. I accept that. But, I do not think one can accomplish Stan's notion of change without discourse and dialogue, as well as without having electedss to properly perform their job functions.

Stan's path is a long one. He has a lot of folks to convince. But, I think it would be something special to first put qualified and determined folks in office, such as Brett, who would (even though he may disagree) engage in that debate, all the while performing the legal requirements of the controller's office.

We all have a vested interest in understanding the financial health of the city, as well as what is going on in the Departments. No matter how bold and innovative our ideas are, a controller who does his job makes policy making on the City and State level easier. A controller who does his job could restore credibility to Philadelphia in the eyes of the General Assembly. A controller who opines on the city budget and 5 year plan, instead of giving the Mayor a free pass, helps us understand the budget. A controller who will actually audit the PPA could help us learn a heck of a lot more about this organization who is ripping off our school district, yearly.

Dear Gaetano

Dear Gaetano:
Thank you for your work.
Very truly yours,
Insufferable Self-righteousness

Good heavens, Gaetano... sorry to make fun of you like this, but really? We're all on the same team. I'm really glad you're pumped about Brett and more power to you, but Stan doesn't think he's making a status quo decision.
You think he is.
Reasonable people the same team can disagree, but they don't have to be a jerk about it.

Brett's office was in the Chamber of Commerce for the last several years.
Your candidate for Mayor was and had been a Ward Leader for years.
Those are hallmarks of the Status Quo, too.
You don't think he is. Fine.
Stan does.

Don't be like that. It's ridiculous.

This Too Will Pass, for the guts in your cerebrum.

For the sake of the public record

Brett Mandel never worked for the Chamber of Commerce and his office was not "in the Chamber of Commerce."

Disclosure: Mandel for Controller, Campaign Manager.

I could be totally wrong

I met with Brett once in his office and I swear it was in the Chamber of Commerce offices.
If it wasn't housed inside the Chamber then where was it? If I was wrong, I'll admit it, but I remember walking in thinking: woah, he's inside the Chamber's office?

I'm sure it was separate org and maybe it was just an in-kind office space contribution, but he was definitely housed in someone else's digs. Who was it then?

This Too Will Pass, for the guts in your cerebrum.

Give me a break

I suppose this post just goes to prove the maxim that the relative truth of an explanation varies inversely to its complexity.

With that in mind, I wonder what the length of this post says about its verity?

That said, it must be nice to live off a fat pension and write 10,000 word blog posts while the rest of us poor slobs have to go out and find a job.

Let's address the fundamental fallacy of the premise of the post. Stan argues that if you are for lowering business taxes, you're pro-"Walmart."

Just because someone is for eliminating taxes that have been proven to cause the relocation of jobs from Philadelphia to the suburbs and places like Thailand does not mean that that same person is also pro-Walmart.

The reason why Philadelphia has so many residents in poverty is because of the lack of jobs. Philadelphia once had a thriving economy based upon the fabrication of specialty goods by highly-skilled artisans.

It kills me to see places like the Globe Dye Works that once employed 1,000s of Philadelphians lie derelict. To walk along block after block of dilapidated row homes that once housed the highly-skilled workers who were employed by these long-gone factories literally haunts my soul.

Perhaps their transformation into art galleries will sow the seeds of a new manufacturing sector that will fabricate the work of a new generation of artisans.

Let's just hope those artisans don't move their fabrication plants to Conshohocken or, worse still, your beloved Thailand or India or wherever you happen to be today.

Where to begin?

1) Just a few questions: Are you against pensions, DeWitt? Or first amendment rights for people on pensions? And when did you become a poor slob? Are all the poor slobs in favor of eliminating taxes for Comcast, Sunoco, Walmart and a bunch of out of town corporations?

2) There is no proof, and much disagreement, relating to the causes of business dislocation. One theory that many people who don't live on fat pensions believe is that the quality of life in a town is a much greater factor in business location decisions than business tax rates. But if you think that abolition of the BPT will bring back thousands of skilled industrial jobs to Philadelphia -- unionized one would presume -- you should vote for Brett Mandel;

3) We've cut taxes every year for 15 years and the number of desperately poor people in Philly just grows and grows;

4) It's stupid and unproductive to repeatedly insult people you disagree with as if you are the sole repository of all truth. It is true that you may discourage other people from publicly disagreeing with you that way. But it's really not becoming of a "progressive" such as yourself to intimidate people from expressing their point of view. Personally I plan to continue expressing mine.

I don't agree with some of

I don't agree with some of the jumps Stan makes, but...

Besides making jumps that are obviously false (such as implying that outsourcing jobs to Thailand was caused by the BPT), attacking someone for 'living off a fat pension' is a weird thing to do.

Let's start with "shallow self-righteousness", shall we

Who would you say, relative to the two of us, Sean, has been more self-righteous in this debate, me, or you, who never fails to demean someone with a different point of view. Anonymously until recently.

You assume, with everyone else who happens to be for Brett and says the tax issue doesn't matter, that he's right on economic development, that stripping the City bare of business taxes will make the flowers bloom everywhere. I'll say again, if you agree with that, you should vote for Brett. Even then, though, you might still want to whisper in Mr. Transparency's ear that when he's busy exposing everything, he ought to also expose for everyone to see, which businesses actually pay taxes in Philly and which don't. For those of us suburbs-bashers foolish enough to care.

My point of view, illegitimate in your eyes, is that stripping the City bare of business tax income will not bring about any result other than to make the City more desperate for funds. And that it will instead send forth a message that Philly is open for whatever rapacious businesses want to come here and rip off our people because we operate under a myth. That myth is we have to, and we can, bribe a sufficient number of businesses to come here to employ the wretched poor of Philadelphia. I just pointed out that we've been down that path for 15 years, with no positive impact on poverty. But you believe in the myth, so, again, Brett should be your candidate.

For me, taxing businesses fairly, as if paying taxes were a moral obligation shared by all of us, not just you, me and Joe Blow, is not only right, it's imperative. Giving direct help to those businesses that bring something extra to Philly other than low-wage, sweat shop jobs, is worthwhile. But giving away the tax store to everyone is neither imperative, nor worthwhile.

You know, for all of your moralizing, Sean, you never discuss the moral dimensions of taxation. Your approach, and that of Brett, is completely utilitarian. In essence, if we can get away with taxing someone, like all the "poor slobs" DeWitt talked about in his last post, we should do so. If not, we shouldn't. Well, that's just wrong, no more or less than if we said only poor people needed to abide by the speed limit. And it's especially wrong if we have less than certain knowledge that giving special privileges will get anything in return. There is only one return that's guaranteed: civic cynicism, and barely suppressed rage, that some people and corporations get treated better than others for no good reason.

Yes, Weaver's Way and Mariposa have turned only little tides. But your typical global corporation that can provide thousands of jobs has taken them to China. They're the ones that manipulate, buy and tyrannize governments; they don't respond to them because they're open and nice. I think, putting on my utilitarian hat, it's far wiser to focus on building business models that don't need bribes, and repeated bribes, to do the right thing. I do like businesses that have that civic spirit built right into their DNA. You say it's hard to build such business models in Philly. Sorry, Sean, you haven't pointed out a development model that's easy.

But let me repeat; I'm totally for open government. I just don't think bringing openness to government with a corresponding contempt for fair taxation and corporate disclosure is quite as progressive as you do. And I think hailing that platform as a penultimate model of progressiveness, rewards neo-liberal behavior in the Democratic Party at a time when we can least afford it. And that's my values statement to you.

Just as I thought

you're an apologist for the greedy global mega-corporations and just interested in lip service support of taxing them fairly. You know that will never happen at the national level, and just as you hate the poor, you hate fair taxation.

Give it up, Sean. Let the world know that you're just a capitalist tool.

Oh, excuse me, was that a bit over the top? I don't know where I would have gotten inspiration for such a stupid, useless way of responding to someone who disagrees with me.

The WSJ reports on Philly's R/E Tax Abatements

Check out today's article:

Sorry I'm not tech-savvy enough to block-quote that last paragraph.

Basis for choosing a City Controller

HalnSue Rosenthal

Stan Shapiro is both passionate and verbose. Though I often agree with him, sometimes it is at a cost of overlooking his factual distortions and supersaturated claims.

His tenacity is impressive. Philadelphia's economy has been sinking faster then cities of our size. It is already so low that we have not been as badly affected by the disaster to the national economy as the rest of the country.

A major percentage of our youth who graduate from high schools and colleges leave. For years our population has been becoming older, poorer and more jobless.

There are few large businesses left in our City to profit as Stan is concerned from lowering the BPT. Our tax on GROSS profits, dollars in before expenses out or profits, is particularly disastrous to start up and small businesses. Since most Philadelphians work for companies of less then 20 employees, it is these massive segments of out economy which is smacked by the tax Brett Mandel, when he was involved with Philadelphia Forward, wanted to see modified.

Let's turn from tax policy debate to the standards for choosing a City Controller.

That office has no power to change tax policy. The function of the Office is to give us an honest count and to assure us our money is being legally, efficiently and wisely spent without political influence. That should be the basis for choosing your candidate for that office. Between the three candidates you choose which one will be best at meeting these obligations.

Thanks for joining the debate Hal

but it's too bad you're joining the train on my supposed "factual distortions and supersaturated claims." Although again, I'm not surprised because we've disagreed on the BPT issue in the past. And because Brett has been so successful in distorting the nature of that tax.

The BPT brings in about $400 million a year, most of it by LARGE businesses. And some portion of that comes from businesses THAT ARE ALREADY LOCATED OUT OF THE CITY AND THAT THEREFORE CAN'T BE DRIVEN AWAY BY THE TAX. That's been substantially admitted by the Revenue Department after years of trying to pry info out of it.

The Department hasn't told us the full extent of how much of the tax comes from out of the City corporations, and Brett, in his drive for transparency, hasn't bothered to ask. However, he has continued, very successfully I would say, to characterize the tax as the "job-killing" business privilege tax.

It's me, Hal, who has been pushing a message that the gross receipts tax should be truly reformed -- rather than repealed -- to exempt small businesses from the tax. That would shield them from the unfairness that Brett rails about, yet preserve 90% of the revenue it now yields. Brett has opposed that idea, complaining weakly that it might violate the uniformity clause. (Nevertheless he sees no legal obstacles to his grandstanding idea of docking the Eagles $8 million from their contractually guaranteed stadium payments.) He should have been fighting for years to remove whatever obstacles there are to this reform if he truly cares about small business.

To me all of this sends a message. It says that Brett, no more or less than other Controllers, will be happy to tailor his investigations to outcomes that he prefers. And for saying that I'm being vilified. So be it.

Interesting. The Controller can just stop any payment he wants?

You mean he doesn't have to meet any legal standard in rejecting a duly presented bill for which an appropriation has been made by Council and the Mayor?

really not digging the personal attacks

ya know, I'm a bit of a firebreather myself, but the personal stuff going on between sean and stan is beginning to take away from their arguments.

I was enjoying the aggressive debate, but it seems to have degraded to "you want philadelphia to be poor forever" versus "you're an apologist for the multi-death corporations".

it's not particularly constructive. just sayin'.

I agree; I'd like to take it down a notch

OK Sean?

Not sure what's real or not here, Sean

but I'll just ask: Haven't you been talking "values", perhaps without using the word, in your posts on Butkovitz? That theme seems pretty hard to miss to me. So is the point that it's OK to discuss values as long as you don't say you're talking about values?

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