HelenGym's blog

Nutter goes national: Tax hikes favored over service cuts

Thanks to Hannah for already linking to this New York Times article, but this really is worth a more in-depth look:

PHILADELPHIA — Mayor Michael A. Nutter said Tuesday that Philadelphia would have to raise taxes or fees to close its budget deficit.

"We can’t just cut our way out of this situation," Mr. Nutter said in an interview with WHYY radio. "We will have to consider very seriously some form of revenue enhancement."

This new rhetoric from the Mayor comes following the publication of PennPraxis’ report on the recent citywide budget hearings. The summary of the talks is incredibly encouraging of the sensibility and humanity of a majority of Philadelphians – and not surprising for those of us on YPP who commissioned a poll months back that yielded similar conclusions. The difference is of course that this report hit the national news as a city that is demanding other options.

The report says that the majority of people:

  • don't want services cut
  • will pay more in taxes if they have to
  • want to ease the tax burden on low-income people
  • and would consider alternative correction opportunities for non-violent offenders if it could mean closing a city jail.

"Given a chance to confront the tough tradeoffs, most citizens opted to tax themselves — while struggling to give a tax break to those less fortunate," said a report by the Project for Civic Engagement at the University of Pennsylvania, which organized the meetings.

Working groups concluded that residents would be prepared — though reluctant — to pay higher taxes on sales, wages, real estate transfers, businesses and parking, said the report, published late Monday.

That's pretty amazing.

What’s most encouraging though is that in times of crisis, people want to know that government is there to take care of core and essential services that benefit and protect not only the majority of its residents but especially the most vulnerable.

It's great to be a part of this city.

DAG: Economics has nothing to do with Market East casino

From the logic of Design Advocacy group president William Becker:

Whether or not you believe gambling is addictive, exploitative and immoral, or whether it is or isn't the financial engine that will shower desperately needed tax revenue onto our cash-strapped city, are questions that have nothing to do with location, and won't be addressed here.

Sheesh, who knew planners could dismiss their APA planning credentials so quickly? Maybe Mr. Becker forgot this part of the APA oath:

The planning process exists to serve the public interest. While the public interest is a question of continuous debate, both in its general principles and in its case-by-case applications, it requires a conscientiously held view of the policies and actions that best serve the entire community.

Karen Heller on free market "courage" for the public schools

For now, I am reserving opinions on Dr. Arlene Ackerman’s "Imagine 2014" Strategic Plan document as I reflect on some of the progress the schools have made over the past decade and the challenges that we still face. But one area I am not reserving opinion for is the tired analysis in Karen Heller’s latest commentary on the Philadelphia schools.

Heller talks about plans to "detonate" the "worst schools" and turn over new schools to organizations with "successful track records" like we haven’t heard that line before.

It’s a bold admission that, despite a $2.3 billion budget, what’s being done isn’t working, and outsiders might do a better job.

She dismisses the concerns of those who raise questions about such a plan like the young woman she quotes from the Philadelphia Student Union – a youth group, by the way, whose members have a high school graduation rate exceeding 90 percent.

She then quotes Mastery Charter Schools CEO Scott Gordon for this insight: "Competition works everywhere else as a business model, why not in education?"

Perhaps Heller needs a brief history lesson.

In 2002, the School District of Philadelphia was to all effects detonated in the biggest experiment in privatization in the country. Originally, Edison Schools Inc. was supposed to take over as manager of the entire School District of Philadelphia as a result of the state takeover of the public schools. Overwhelming public opposition and the fortuitous move (from a schools perspective at least) of then-Gov. Tom Ridge to the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security resulted in Edison receiving management of only 20 schools in the district; an additional 25 schools went to a variety of for-profit, non-profit and community providers.

Also since 2002, the district’s charter school system has grown to effectively become the second largest school district in the Commonwealth.

So how’s it all turned out?

When My Worlds Collide (Subtitle: Or maybe Jim Kenney's Conspiracy Theory is Right)

(You can read a more straightforward version of this cross-posted in the brand new Philadelphia Public School Notebook blog which launched today on a new website delivering education news and comments by Philadelphia’s education activists.)

When I first read City Councilman James Kenney’s comments in the press blaming anti-casino activists for their Machiavellian tactics in hijacking the library campaign and seeking to upset the balance of power in city government, I initially thought "Huh? I entertain good conspiracy theories as much as the next person, but really . . . . "

But recent news about Pennsylvania’s efforts to link casinos and education has me wondering about how my different worlds as an education activist and at Asian Americans United are now colliding. So I'm now developing my own insane conspiracy theory – the Evil Plot To Use School Funding As The Basis To Justify Gambling and To Tie School Funding to Pennsylvania’s Ability to Generate Gambling Revenue Theory of the World.

Here’s the connections:

  • Greco, as the Governor knows, serves on the board of the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, landlord of the Gallery shopping mall, which is now in negotiations to lease to Foxwoods Casino.

Now I have nothing against Rosemarie Greco, who is by all accounts an august citizen of the city, but it’s a curious set of coincidences nonetheless. And hence my own Kenney-esque conspiracy theory: One could argue (as he did) that these are the same set of folks wanting to push gambling, and that like those pesky anti-casino activists manipulating the library issue (Kenney: "They're [anti-casino activists] using libraries because everybody likes libraries."), here we have casino proponents manipulating the education issue.

Could it be a plant to usurp educational goals with gambling ones?

Casinos and the politics of fear

Because when basic economic theory or public support or Congress or the tanking casino industry itself turn against you, we can always rely on the politics of fear to try and force things to happen:

Rendell said sentiment across the state could really turn against Philadelphia if its two approved slot parlors are not open by the time Pittsburgh's casino is finished, which is expected late this summer.

"There will be a bill that will whip through the Legislature taking gambling proceeds away from Philadelphia," Rendell said during an annual question-and-answer with the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.

Meanwhile let's not forget that casino revenue hasn't stopped the state from plugging a $5.6 billion hole (Correction: $2.3 billion) or losing jobs or making us a national example of pork spending. But at a time when AC is going belly up, casinos are facing bankruptcy, and regular folks are struggling to hold onto every dollar they can, we can rely on our Governor to employ the politics of fear to force a bankrupt idea on his own city.

Help on the way but not for casinos

Far be it for me to stop the Eagles mourning process on YPP, but before inauguration frenzy dominates the site, this AP wire story ran last week announcing the House Dems' $825 billion economic stimulus package. Last month, the Nutter administration submitted a $2.6 billion appeal for federal help - an appeal that, unfortunately, got less than favorable attention due to a $125 million request for casino-related development.

On the plus side the plan will hopefully impact "virtually everyone" in the U.S.:

A $500 tax cut would reach 95 percent of workers and $1,000 for working couples. First-time home buyers purchasing homes between Jan. 1 and June 30 would get a $7,500 tax credit, and local school districts would be spared severe cuts as state and local governments budgets collapse , to the tune of $120 billion over the next two years. States would get $87 billion worth of help with their Medicaid budgets over the next two years.

But even pols have their limits:

To avoid embarrassment, the measure says specifically that the money can't "be used for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course or swimming pool."

As the City begins laying out dollars for consultants in anticipation of a casino and PA Dems plan gambling's expansion, let's hope that the stimulus money will help us focus on the priorities that benefit all Philadelphians.

Library closings and the 3/4 of Philadelphia public schools lacking school librarians

Anecdotally we know the impoverished state of school libraries – Parents United for Public Education has been campaigning on this issue since our inception. For most schools, on the ropes with budget cuts for years on end, librarians were considered one of the earliest disposable positions. After all when choosing between a librarian and a grade teacher for 33 kids, not a whole lot of schools hesitate about chopping the librarian.

Although high schools for the most part, had enough general funds to cover library positions, the cruel irony is that it’s the elementary schools that saw the most dramatic losses – ironic because it’s these students for whom access to books and literacy skills can most actively impact and remediate struggling readers.

Earlier this month, the Association of Philadelphia School Librarians posted for the first time in years, a full accounting of the number of full-time librarians in schools (fourth bullet that says "School library staffing by region with maps").

Out of 281 public schools, there are 77 full-time librarians, 31 of which are in the high schools. At the elementary level, when literacy skills are most likely to increase the fastest, more than three-quarters and possibly as high as 80% lack a full-time librarian.

On the Free Library website, you can click on the various branches and observe which schools they formally serve. My research shows that the 11 library branches slated for closure serve about 47 public schools. Here's the breakdown:

  • only a quarter of these 47 schools (12 to be exact) have full time librarians;
  • an additional four schools are able to pay for part-time positions of either a library assistant or part-time librarian;
  • of the 35 elementary schools that are served by the library branches slated for closure, only four had a full-time librarian and one had a part-time librarian on staff.
  • That means more than 85% of elementary schools served by the targeted closings have no library staff at all.

Library chart-final

Looking at race and journalism in the Darryl Davis story

Last week’s Daily News featured a cover story about a young man between two families – one, a white middle class family in Bucks County, and the other, a single African American man in Germantown, who, as depicted by the writer, "described himself as a sanitation worker who did odd jobs" to support himself. The former was the young man’s foster family who had raised him from ages one to 10 (roughly). The latter was Darryl Davis, Sr., the biological father of the young man, Darryl, and a man who had himself fought back from the brink to reclaim his son – but you wouldn’t know it from the original story.

Foxwoods tribal chair convicted of felony-in violation of state law?

The relevant parts from Connecticut's The Day today:

Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Chairman Michael Thomas, who was convicted in 1988 on drug-dealing charges, successfully cleared a Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board investigation in 2006 despite a state law prohibiting convicted felons from obtaining gaming licenses there.

Thomas and the rest of the Pequot Tribal Council all underwent key-employee background investigations as part of ongoing plans to build a Foxwoods-branded casino in Philadelphia.

The board issued a license to Foxwoods Development Co., a wholly owned subsidiary of the tribe, and its Pennsylvania partners in February 2007 and made no mention of Thomas' felony conviction in its decision. The tribe has a 30 percent interest in the casino and will manage it.

Why do we fund this?

From this year's Mummers Comics Brigade "Aliens of An Illegal Kind"

Generally, I avoid most things to do with Joey Vento; he does enough shameless publicity stunts to earn him his ignoramus ranking. This post isn’t about him, but it is about the Mummers and their embarrassing use of public dollars – in a time of financial crisis – to promote this kind of garbage.

A few people who watched this year's Mummers Parade took offense to Vento's starring role in a performance by Comics brigade B. Love Strutters titled "Aliens of an Illegal Kind."

The skit featured Vento popping out of the top of a float labeled "Gewizno's Steaks" with a "When ordering, speak English" sign. Vento waved a poster reading, "What?" and tossed fake cheesesteaks into the crowd.

Then an announcer for B. Love Strutters cried out, "Uh-oh, here comes the Border Patrol!" Club members wearing Texas-sized cowboy hats and brandishing wooden rifles pretended to hold back a rioting crowd of "immigrants" from storming the border "fences." As the immigrants burst forth, they traded in their country's flag for an American flag, and a Mummer dressed as President-elect Barack Obama handed out Green Cards.

ABC debuts "Homeland Security USA"

No, it's not a joke:

Granted mid-season shows have a notoriously short lifespan, but still . . . is it possible for one of the most renegade agencies in the country (IMO) to get a vainglorious show that at best, hypes up the work of agents who are frequently poorly trained and overworked, and at worst stokes racial profiling, anti-immigrant sentiment and general xenophobia and ignorance?

Seriously, how secure do you feel when you see agents drawing guns against a family with children who were trying to cross the US-Mexico border - only to find it a case of mistaken identity (as was featured in tonight's episode)?

National Media Ridicule Nutter's $100 Million Casino Request as Pork

Last month, the Nutter administration submitted a $2.6 billion wish list to the Obama transition team. At the top of the money pile – ahead of new schools and a youth study center? The Market East/Foxwoods casino – coming in at a cool $167 million* (correction: $125 million).

Just because there’s no plan in place doesn’t stop the City from putting it forth. After all, here was Terry Gillen’s reason for including the Market East casino project:

"We just want to make sure the opportunity for funding doesn't go away just because the project's not ready to be defined," said Terry Gillen, executive director of the Redevelopment Authority and senior adviser to the mayor.

Well, it’s not just Philadelphians who aren’t sold on that kind of logic. Earlier this week, the national press, including the Washington Post and CNBC, took notice of this line item after GOP leaders flagged it as one of the top examples of a stimulus package that was pork barrel politics as usual:

My favorite line?
"The mayors are calling a lot of their projects shovel ready. The question might be asked is what it is that they’re actually shoveling."
But more seriously, Nutter’s delineation of $125 million for the casino is troubling because it’s the first time a ballpark number has been put on the potential cost of the Market East location.

The Mayor's $2.6 billion wish list

The Mayor headed to Chicago this week with a $2.6 billion wish list for the Obama administration.

While other cities like Boston were much more humble in their ask – $183 million for B-Town – not so for our Mayor, who was among a handful of cities asking for billions in aid. It’s worth checking out all 8 pages because it lays out the administration’s economic priorities and a vision for the Philadelphia future they see.

On the other hand there are other troubling items. Among these:

  • Library system expansion: Construction of two new regional libraries in north and south sections of the city: $30 million

Asian Americans United statement on Trump's federal casino lawsuit

The most ironic part of Donald Trump's federal lawsuit against the PA Gaming Control Board is his claim of its being a corrupt process. In any case, never say never in the life of PA's casino politics and the gambling industry.

Asian Americans United Statement on federal lawsuit

Asian Americans United is hopeful that the federal lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Gaming
Control Board sheds light on the sordid history of gambling in Pennsylvania. From midnight legislation to the backroom awarding of casino licenses to the placement of casinos over residents’ objections – these are the examples of the insider politics, back room deals and corruption that is endemic to the gambling industry.

Tax abatements and school district finances

This post has been edited to correct misinformation from its original posting. Apologies. HG

The Inquirer has an interesting in-depth analysis of the city’s tax abatement program. The story is one of the most extensive looks at a program that has changed the face of Philadelphia. Unfortunately, the story leaves the consequences for Philadelphia schools as somewhat of an afterthought.

Although the city has arguably reaped benefits from tax abatements (wage/sales taxes, development, residential sales, etc.), the school district has suffered immeasurably from the program with little recompense from the city. In its newspaper version, the Inky published a chart of the tax impact on the city and schools. I inquired about the specific numbers on the chart, and then did a 60% calculation of the amount that would have transferred to the schools.

Here's what the cost of abatements will be for the schools:

  • since 2008: City = $84,727,393 in total lost revenue
    Schools = $50,836,436 forfeited
  • by 2012: City = $181,406,923 in total lost revenue
    Schools = $108,844,154 forfeited
  • by 2016 (peak loss): City = $239,932,516 in total lost revenue
    Schools = $143,959,509 forfeited

Between 2016 and 2025, the total amount lost for schools declines. The District will begin to see profits from the program in 2025 when we get the first check for $1.6 million . . . after 26 years. By 2025, all three of my children will have graduated from high school – a generation, in my opinion, robbed.

Syndicate content