- 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?
We Need More Startups
Every day I sit through traffic on 76 on my way to and from the Main Line to go to work. It’s an odd situation, considering that I have always thought that the suburbs were the 5th ring of hell. But I do this, because, sadly, there are no jobs to be found in the Philadelphia city limits. This is even more amusing considering that I am a Software Developer at a time where there are more programmer jobs then there were during the dot com boom. I found out the other day that India, now, is outsourcing jobs to the U.S. I thought that my co-worker was joking, but he was dead serious. So why is it that I can’t find a job in Philly?
Of the roughly 15 people on the technology staff, I am the only one who lives in the city. There is only one other person in the company that I know of who lives in the city, as I do. True, I could get a job in Center city, if I wanted to work for Verizon or Comcast, but that just isn’t in the cards. When I think about working for them, I think of a skit by the late Comedian Bill Hicks talking about how talentless musicians get their 15 minutes of fame. The joke is a little blue for here, but let’s just say that it involves hanky panky with Satan.
So when most programmers move to this area, or decide to stay here, they wind up living in the suburbs. We can’t live in Center City, because we absolutely have to have a car. A parking space is like a second mortgage, and even if it weren’t, your commute to work would be an hour each way on a good day. So, unless you grew up in one of the City’s other neighborhoods, like I did, you see almost no point in moving into the city, especially with the City Wage Tax that we have and the crumbling schools. Friends of mine just had a son, and it looks like we are going to lose them too because our schools suck. Because when you have kids in Philly, you have two viable options, private school or the burbs.
I live in Mt. Airy, because I want to live in a place of cultural and economic diversity. I love this City, both for what it is and what it can be. I get punished for that though. When I bought my house, I learned about the retarded real estate policies that we have. First of which is the 2% transfer tax when you buy and sell a house (3% is from the City, and the other 1% is from the state). This cost me about 2000 dollars, which I could have used to do home improvements or pay points on my mortgage which would have saved me about 600 bucks a year. That’s a lot of money for young people who want to own their own homes and do it here. It makes owning a home that much more risky, because your house has to appreciate 10% before you break even. Besides that, I think that it’s pretty stupid to tax wealth, but that’s another story.
Then you look at those lovable 10 year tax abatements. As Bill Cosby said of having children, it was a good idea at the time. But now it’s hard not to call the policy racist. It basically rewards rich Wasps for moving into gentrifying neighborhoods at the expense of its ethnic inhabitants. So rich people who don’t want to contribute to the community get tax breaks to move into a neighborhood that they would have been moving into anyway. Meanwhile, people who have lived there for 30 years are forced out when their taxes triple. And even if they can afford to live there, it isn’t the neighborhood that they know and love.
This is a round about way to get to an actual point. When I hear our political leaders talk about how we need jobs and the only way to do this is to build Casinos or Jetson style pipe dream induced sky towers, I want to vomit. To me, that just shows an overwhelming lack of substance and leadership, whether they blog on this site or not. What we need to do is create a city that’s attractive to startups. If you haven’t read any of Paul Graham’s essays on the subject, then go do it now. In How To Be Silicon Valley, he actually sites Philadelphia as a place that’s not attractive to startups. I happen to disagree with him. I think that it’s a great place for startups, if we change a few things.
We have so much that people like me want. We are the birthplace of modern Democracy. We have the biggest city park system in the world. We have a very vibrant music and Theatre community. We have great schools like Penn, Drexel, St. Joe’s, Villanova, and Temple (Go Owls!) We stand right between the financial and political capitals of the world. So we have access to the money, and we have access to the nerds, so what’s the problem?
First, let me get the controversial thing out of the way. Our tax system is a tragedy. With a high City Wage tax, high earning individuals (i.e. Management and/or founders) do not want to have their company in the City, especially when they already live in the suburbs, where all the good schools are. Then there is the Business Privilege Tax, which has a portion that taxes gross receipts. So if you are in a low margin business, like most businesses that create jobs or spend money on other businesses that create jobs, then your get taxed before you even earn anything. And, if you are a consultant, which you will be if you are starting a business, then you have to pay all of your City taxes a year in advance, which can suck if you make a lot of money one year but a little the next, which happens a lot in my business. I am not saying that you should cut taxes at the expense of social services, but what I am saying is that you need to have a tax system that makes sense and will attract more businesses to the city.
The next thing that you need is a good public education system. How can we have a city that is not beneficial to raising a family? Why is it that my parents had to choose to stay in the city and send me to private school or move to the suburbs and send me to public school? Why are my friends having to make the same choice? And then, what about the people who don’t even have that choice? What do we say to them?
What’s up with out public transportation system anyways? Why do I live in a city where I have to have a car? Why don’t we have trains running all hours of the night like they do in New York? Why do the regional rail lines only run once an hour in certain parts of the day?
What’s going on with the touristification of the City? Is our answer to everything a high rise Condo, a Casino, or places for people to go shopping? Is it really OK to take the city which is known for its great ethnic neighborhoods and turn it into WASPY heaven?
I know what some people are thinking. Who cares about highly skilled jobs? Well, for one, I do. And people like me are the kinds of people that you want in your City. Programmers are overwhelmingly progressive, egalitarian, community oriented and artistic, and we have a good amount of disposable income. That’s why all the ladies love us. OK, that was a joke, but I digress. If we attract more programmers to our city, then businesses will be created to support them, and in our companies, we may not directly hire a lot of non technical people, but the ones who we do will get a piece of the pie. Every one of the employees will be respected, from the CEO all the way down to the janitor. We as a city don’t need more jobs, especially the types that will be created by Casinos and sky malls. What we need are good jobs, and those are hard to come by and they aren’t created as the result of a big campaign contribution or by something that will get good press.
I may sound a little self absorbed here, but it’s only because I love this city and want to stay here. Moreover, I want to always have an interesting job and to be around smart people who I can learn from. I’m doing pretty good now, but who knows what the future will have in store for me. There may come a time where I have to move to another city like New York, DC, Boston, Raleigh-Durham, Austin, Seattle, Boulder, Denver, or Silicon Valley. What I want is for those people to want to move here. I think that we can do it. We just have to buck the system.