- Pennsylvania Among 'Terrible 10' Most Regressive Tax States
- February 4 Non-Partisan Training: HOW TO RUN FOR ELECTION BOARD IN 2013: HOW TO RUN FOR COMMITTEEPERSON IN 2014
- Republican Governors Opt-In to Medicaid Expansion
- The Reports of Unions' Death Are Greatly Exaggerated
- Ask Allyson Schwartz to run for Governor
- Mind the gap: Opting Out of Medicaid Expansion Leaves Low-income Families Behind
- Jan. 14 Workshop:HOW TO RUN FOR ELECTION BOARD IN 2013; HOW TO RUN FOR COMMITTEEPERSON IN 2014
- Seth Williams on Guns, Jasmine Rivera on School Closures @PFC Meetup Wednesday
- PA Revenue Strong Midway Through Year; Tax Cut Could Have Big Impact
- What to Make of the Fiscal Cliff Deal?
Interview with Brett Mandel
Over the course of a few days, Ray and I did an email interview with Brett Mandel. (We offered other candidates the same option, but, it didn’t work out. I will leave out commentary for now, with a little more on the race later this week. But, as you will see, we asked Brett the ‘toughest’ questions, because those are the questions that I have been asked myself about the race. This is long, so, click read more, and check the whole thing out.
YPP: Let's start with the toughest stuff first- Alan Butkovitz's attacks against you. I got a 'letter' from him that was effectively directed at you, in it he went after you both for tax policies as having starved the city of money, and he pulled out quotes from your book, purporting to be from you suggesting that we should set up a BRAC-like commission to, among other things, close libraries. Can you contextualize his attacks on your suggestions in the book?
BM:To make it appear that I favor the closing of libraries, my opponent purposefully misquoted me by deleting portions of the sentence that reference the opening of new facilities. Properly explained, I am for the rationalization of services delivery so that all Philadelphians have equal access to the services we all rely upon.
The language quoted by my opponent comes from my book "Philadelphia: A New Urban Direction," a comprehensive plan designed to make Philadelphia a preferred place to live, work, and visit. The book is still used in college classrooms throughout the region to study Philadelphia government. Since it was published, every mayoral transition team has relied on it to formulate their plans for the incoming administration. From this nearly 300-page book, my opponent has pulled a single sentence that he purposely distorted.
The language appears in a section of the book that discusses the "right sizing" of City government. In recent years, "right sizing" has become of euphemism for shutting down facilities. This meaning is not what I intended. Rather, the section from which the quote appears discusses the fact that many of Philadelphia's facilities were built a generation or two (or more) ago. What makes sense for a 19th-century city does not make sense for a 21st-century city. Many fire houses are still located at the top of hills because horses run faster downhill. With changes in technology and demographics, it is sound policy to periodically appraise the delivery of City services to determine whether certain areas are under-served and certain areas are over-served. My discussion clearly contemplates the opening of new facilities that are presently under-served.
To mischaracterize my position, Alan Butkovitz deleted language from the sentence he quotes that acknowledges our need to consider opening new facilities. The full sentence reads: "The City should create a BRAC-like commission, or endow the City Planning Commission with BRAC-like authority, to examine the City's inventory of physical assets to determine whether certain facilities could be deaccessioned and whether necessary new construction could consolidate two or more function currently housed in separate facilities."
My opponent's purposeful mischaracterization comes as no surprise as its completely in line with the tactics he has pursued while in office. By putting politics ahead of his legal obligations, he has destroyed the credibility of his office. In this time of fiscal crisis, he has denied Philadelphians access to crucial information we need to make decisions about how our scarce tax dollars are being spent.
YPP: How do you make those of us who think you are very qualified to the City's fiscal watchdog, but who disagreed so strenuously with you on tax policy, comfortable that we are hiring Brett Mandel, auditor, not Brett Mandel, tax advocate?
BM: Setting tax policy is not the Controller's job. That is the job of City Council and the Mayor. The job of the City Controller is clearly defined by the City Charter. The Controller must audit every city department annually. I am running because I intend to do this job.
The current Controller has refused to perform his legal obligations. In a recent Inquirer article, Butkovitz justified his refusal, and left a reporter with the impression that “annual audits are more or less a waste of time.” (Inquirer, 4/22/09). As demonstrated by our current budget crisis, audits are not a waste of time. His inaction has left the Mayor and City Council ill-equipped to make crucial decisions.
As City Council and the Mayor spar over the 2010 budget and discuss a hefty increase in Real Estate Taxes or Wage Taxes, the current City Controller has performed no audits of any city department for FY2008. To date, he has performed only six departmental audits for FY2007. Without crucial information about how our tax dollars are being spent and where efficiencies may be found, we are not able to find many solutions to the current budget crisis aside from service cuts or potential tax increases. This is a severe problem and city taxpayers are going to end up footing the bill for the current Controller’s decision to abandon his duties.
With that said, I will address your concerns about my personal advocacy. Philadelphia suffers many ailments. An alarming number of residents live in poverty. Our schools are failing over 50 percent of our children. Our streets are, too often, dirty and unsafe. I believe that the long-term solution for these problems (that are each symptoms of Philadelphia's poverty crisis) is the creation of jobs. To enable the creation of jobs, I believe that Philadelphia must become more competitive in terms of the costs presented to employers -- especially small and growing firms.
YPP: Can you justify the need for the Controller's office as it is currently chartered? (I tend to lump all the row offices together in my head as vestigial organs--I'm not saying that's right, but just sort of where my general thoughts are)
BM: President Obama recently issued a challenge to America's Mayors. He stated: "What I will need from all of you is unprecedented responsibility and accountability on all of our parts. The American people are watching. They need this plan to work. They expect to see the money that they've earned, that they've worked so hard to earn, spent in its intended purposes without waste, without inefficiency, without fraud."
President Obama recognizes that unless Americans trust that their tax dollars are being well spent, the constituency for change he built will quickly evaporate and we'll never be able to achieve crucial policies like universal healthcare. The same principle applies to local government.
Trust is the Controller's job. An active, engaged and impartial Controller is necessary to ensure Philadelphians trust their money is being spent well.
The office is not a row office. Along with the District Attorney, the Controller is intended to serve as one of Philadelphia's two watchdogs. Like the DA, the Controller is elected at the mid-point of the Mayor's term so as to establish a Madisonian tension between the Mayor and the Controller.
However, over the years, the Office of City Controller has been co-opted by Philadelphia's political insiders. We have forgotten the crucial role the Controller plays in ensuring Philadelphia remains progressive.
Ultimately, if we are going to have a progressive government, if we are going to sustain a belief among voters that government can be a positive force in our lives, we must re-establish trust in City government. Trust is a necessary prerequisite for progressive policy action. Trust is necessary for collective action. Regardless of what type of collective action we wish to undertake, taxpayers will not support progressive policies if they do not trust their government officials.
YPP: How do you see the controller's role in corruption and waste interacting (bad word choice, but I think you will see what I mean) with others in the city who potentially have similar duties, ie, the Inspector General, the DA's office, etc?
BM: Concerning instances of crime or fraud, the City Controller and the DA's office should work in concert. I would immediate refer such matters to the DA's office for criminal prosecution.
Concerning instances of waste or inefficiency, my duty would be to report such matters to the public and work with city departments to ameliorate such conditions.
As for the Inspector General, the office is largely a replication of duties that should be performed by the DA and Controller. It was created largely because the officials elected to the DA's office and the Office of the Controller have failed to fulfill the duties of their offices. This replication of duties is in and of itself a waste of tax dollars. If Philadelphia was to elect a DA and a City Controller who would perform all of the duties of their office, the Inspector General would be rendered superfluous.
Because the Inspector General serves at the pleasure of the Mayor, I believe that the office is necessarily a second-best solution. Furthermore, the IG only has authority to review departments under the Mayor's direct control. In contrast, the City Controller answers only to voters and has authority to review the entire city government. Because of the Controller's independence, he or she is insulated from any pressure a Mayor may exert to look the other way when investigations may impact the Mayor's interests. Philadelphians would be much better served if we elected an active, engaged and truly independent City Controller.