City Council

Council Democrats Seal the Deal with Philly's 1%

Yesterday, Council repealed the wage tax rebate for the working poor. This landmark legislation, one of the signature achievements of the late Councilman David Cohen, was repealed by a 10-6 vote, with 8 of those repealing votes coming from Democrats. Voting in favor of repeal were the following:

Clarke D-5th District
Green D-At Large
Greenlee D-At Large
Henon D-6th District
Jones D-4th District
Kenney D-At Large
O’Neill R-10th District
Oh R-At Large
Reynolds-Brown D-At-Large
Tasco D-9th District

Voting against repeal were the following, including only 5 Democrats:

Bass D-8th District
Blackwell D-3rd District
Goode D-At Large
Johnson D-2nd District
O’Brien R-At Large
Squilla D-1st District

Generally I try not to engage in single-issue rating of politicians. But this is going to be a hard pill to swallow when it’s time to vote for the repealers again. The wage tax credit is the kind of tax provision that generally marks the divide between Democrats and Republicans. It’s targeted toward the working poor so only those that need it get it. Credit recipients recycle the money to the economy by spending it locally, rather than on overseas vacations, or by depositing it in offshore accounts. The City gains by enabling economically marginal families to pay their rent and utilities, thus keeping families intact and lowering pressure on local services.

Council DEMOCRATS poised to kill tax break for low-wage workers.

Isn’t it nice that we have a Democratic City Council by a margin of 15-2? That must mean that, like the federal and state governments, the City does something to make its income-based tax progressive. And, indeed, in 2004, City Council enacted such a break, enabling workers classified as working poor by the State to knock their wage tax down to 1.5%, a meaningful cut.

But Council really didn’t like it. To get this little piece of tax justice passed, its sponsor, the late, great, Councilman David Cohen, had to agree to phase it in over a six year period. Soon after Cohen’s death, multiple efforts were launched to repeal it outright. Although these were unsuccessful, the tax break was postponed three additional times, and the benefit itself was sharply reduced, to no more than 1% under the general rate of the tax.

As restructured, the wage tax credit is now scheduled to begin taking effect in 2016. But the restructuring and the delay did not reduce Mayor Nutter’s zeal for doing away with it altogether. With little fanfare he introduced a bill to repeal it altogether along with his budget for next year. Now it has been voted out of Committee to the floor of Council by a 9-8 vote.

Remember, the wage tax is about as regressive a tax as you can have based on income. It excludes all sources of income but wages. It is flat, levied currently at a rate of 3.93%, on a worker’s first and every other dollar of wages. No deductions, exemptions, credits or reductions of any kind apply for low wage workers. Upper income workers who deduct taxes from their federal taxes, however, may pay as much as a third less than the nominal rate.

This is not a City in which there is a general reluctance to cut taxes, at least not those that benefit the 1%. Just recently Council defined wages to exclude those paid to hedge fund managers. Since 1996, the rate of the wage tax has been cut 16 times to bring it down from 4.96% to its current rate. All of those cuts benefited the rich far more than the poor. That’s simple to see. A cut of 1% is worth $1,000 to someone earning $100,000, but only $100 to someone earning $10,000.

Why would Democrats fight the idea of giving low wage workers some additional bit of relief from this heavy tax burden in a town with a poverty rate exceeding 25%? Good question. Please call and ask them before a final vote is taken next Thursday. All we need is one of them to come to their senses and reject this war on the poor. When you talk to them, ask them what they think it means to be a Democrat in Philadelphia.

Here are the Democrats who voted to repeal this little piece of tax justice and decency:

Green (At Large)
Greenlee (At Large)
Henon (6th District)
Jones (4th District)
Reynolds Brown (At Large)
Tasco (9th District)
Clarke (5th District)

Also, two Republicans voted to repeal:

O'Neill (10th District)
Oh (At Large)

Ask them why any Democrat should vote for them. They got plenty of Democratic votes in the last election. (You can get contact info for Council members here.) You can find out who your District Councilperson is here.

And here are the 8 members who voted to keep the tax cut:

Bass (8th District)
Blackwell (3rd District)
Goode (At Large)
Johnson (2nd District)
Kenney (At Large)
O'Brien (At Large)
Quinones-Sanchez
Squilla (1st District)

Call and thank them. Note O’Brien: a Republican who did the right thing. How often can you say that?

The .00001 have again spoken; peasants, go away . . .

Today’s Inky reports that the Chamber of Commerce is getting all up on its 1% haunches about Councilman Bill Green’s proposal to raise the Use and Occupancy tax for the schools. It just gets me the way the “liberal media” goes all wobbly at the knees whenever the Chamber in all its imperial wisdom speaks. Today our lordly overseer says that raising the U & O is a no no because, among many other things, “tenants remain mobile and react swiftly to price changes in this environment." That quote is from Rob Wonderling, the former Republican State Senator and present Chamber President. Several other wise men are quoted in agreement. The Inky can seem to find no one who disagrees.

So what is this horrible U & O tax? It’s a tax on the value of real estate occupied by businesses. It’s been around for thirty years or so as a workaround of PA law which bars commercial real estate from being taxed at a higher level than residential. As the Inky does acknowledge, that means -- compared to other Northeastern cities -- Philadelphia businesses don't pay a whole lot of real estate tax. But you have to scroll down to get to that. Way up high you have the prediction of Mr. Crocodile Tears himself (also known as Robert Zuritsky, president of Parkway Corp.) that increasing the tax would cost 10,000 to 25,000 jobs in two years.

Be scared out of your bejabbers everyone, very scared. Apparently Bill Green who sponsored the U & O increase is appropriately, awesomely scared, because according to the article, he’s abandoned his own bill. Others in Council are listed as skeptical to say the least.

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.

Call and come out in support of the earned sick time bill!

The earned sick time bill is moving towards a final vote in City Council this Thursday, June 16. Please join us on the 4th floor of City Hall at 9:30 am. Help us greet City Council members as they enter Session. Then we'll pack Council chambers to show the importance of this bill. Bring any signs or posters to represent why you support earned sick days. You can enter City Hall at the north-east corner. Remember to bring a picture ID.

Where is Bill Green on the legislation?

Let's responsibly help the School District

During the last few months, the School District has been trying to close a staggering deficit. The Mayor has proposed two different tax increases to help the district--taxes that go directly to the district. The district is requesting $102M. This is roughly the same amount requested in City Council prior to resolution of the full day kindergarten and transpass issues. The administration proposes giving them $66M. It is $66M then that we need to solve for.

I am opposed to taxes that directly go into the Districts coffers (which is the current proposal). The only real accountability we will have over the District is putting money on the City side, not the district side, of the wall and tossing it over only after they have agreed with our priorities. The administration's plan does not do this.

Last week, an Education Accountability Agreement was signed between the City, District, and Commonwealth. It is nice but mostly theatre. Council has been pressing for greater accountability for the past many weeks, including at the District's May 24th budget hearing, in letters to Philadelphia's state legislators, etc. In fact, Councilman Clarke has proposed a mechanism to provide more funding to the District only if additional accountability measures were in place (Councilman Clarke made this proposal a week before the Education Accountability Agreement was signed or shared with Council)--essentially creating an accountability fund.

Throughout Council's budget hearings and meetings with the District this spring, the focus has been on making sure that programs that generate concrete, successful outcomes for kids are preserved. We have focused our efforts and scarce resources on preserving the existing programs that are proven to work – not create or expand new programs. This was again a theme during Friday's day-long hearing, in which I, Councilman Kenney, Councilwoman Sanchez, and others pressed the District on, for example, why it proposed to fund 18 days of summer school at a cost of $23M rather than 180 days of reduced class sizes at a cost of $21M.

With respect to increasing funding to the District, there is a path forward that provides the District with the additional $66M requested by the City last Friday without raising taxes.

• On the city side, the Administration can generate $6M through increased on-street parking rates; $10M through reductions identified during budget hearings that will not impact services; and $30M through reducing the year-end fund balance, which is proposed to be $50M (by way of comparison, the fund balance levels in FY10-14 Five Year Plan approved by PICA were as follows: FY10 = $2.988M; FY11 = $10.960M; FY12 = $31.377M; FY13 = $10.633M; and FY14 = $79.797M) – a total of $46M.

• On the District side, additional savings are possible by: (1) limiting summer school to those students who need the credits to graduate or move on to the next grade (savings of $10M); (2) keeping Promise Academies at their current size rather than expanding them from 7 to 17 schools (savings of $19M) – again, in this period of limited resources, we should be focused on maintaining existing initiatives that we know work for kids (early childhood education, accelerated schools, etc.), not expanding new programs; and (3) trimming some of the remaining fat in operations/administration – for example, the proposed almost $500K increase in the budget of the Communications Office (we think the savings could sum to $10M) – a total of $39M.

Thus, by making hard but not impossible choices, and without raising taxes, we can put on the table $85M to fund priority items at the District -- such as yellow bus service, reduced class sizes, accelerated schools, early childhood education, school nurses, extended day programs, and arts and music being some of the top priorities, which collectively cost $84M.

The education advocates who appeared before Council last Friday, including PCCY, testified that they were agnostic about where the additional funding came from and were, instead, squarely focused on making sure sufficient funding and accountability measures were in place. Parents United testified that there should be no more resources without accountability (don't get me wrong, they want resources).

I stand ready and willing to help the District find the resources it needs to maintain the programs that are working for our children, but I believe we can do so in a manner that improves accountability and avoids taxing our citizens even more than they are already taxed or relying on revenue measures that are untested subject to legal challenge.

It is time for a new era for education in Philadelphia

I am sitting here trying to think of how to write a clever email about what is happening in Philadelphia right now. But, I am a working mom, and with all the proposed cuts to educational programs here and across Pennsylvania, the end of school approaching, the field trips permission slips I have to find and sign and summer activities to sign up for… well – I am fresh out of clever today.

If you want to skip the narrative and just take action: Click here. We are asking our elected leaders to lead more and invest more to improve the quality of education in the City.

http://salsa.wiredforchange.com/o/6041/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=4...

Three Council Candidates Who Will Fight Corporate Power: Cohen, Hornstein and Paulmier

Let me start by saying Neighborhoods Networks has a great slate of candidates to recommend in the Democratic Primary tomorrow. And here they are:

Kathryn Boockvar, Commonwealth Court, ballot # 102
Stephanie Singer, City Commissioner, ballot #169
Blondell Reynolds Brown, Council At-Large ballot # 179
Sherrie Cohen, Council At-Large, ballot # 180
Andy Toy, Council At-Large, ballot # 187
Jeff Hornstein, City Council, 1st District, ballot # 194
Maria Quinones Sanchez, 7th district, ballot #191
Greg Paulmier, 8th district, ballot #190

Cohen, Goode and Reynolds-Brown get the green nod in At-Large race

Reynolds-Brown, Goode and Cohen get the green vote
Clean Water Action releases its endorsed candidates in the at-large City Council election

(Philadelphia) – This morning, Clean Water Action released its list of endorsed candidates in Democratic Primary for At-Large Council Seats. The environmental organization with almost 8,000 registered voters in its membership in the city is supporting Councilwoman Blondell Reyolds-Brown, Councilman Wilson Goode, Jr. and Sherrie Cohen. Speaking outside City Hall this morning, environmentalists stood alongside these three endorsed candidates to show their commitment to an environmental agenda.

Brady Russell, Eastern PA Director for Clean Water Action said, “We decided we were only going to support candidates for these seats who got 100% on our environmental questionnaire. We wanted to throw our support to a small group of candidates who were willing to make the strongest commitment to the environment. With the support of the Southeast Pennsylvania Steering Committee, we decided these three were the right choices to recommend to our members.”

The Chamber of Commerce is A Collection of People Right? Then Why Isn't the Chamber Crying for Our Kids?

So the Chamber of Commerce-elected Governor and Legislature are bound and determined to kill all-day kindergarden in Philadelphia. Of course, the Chamber won't say it that way. But that's the effect of its actions in demonizing public spending, public employees, and, especially, public schools that have the temerity to . . . of all things . . .employ teachers. Its massive spending in the last cycle was all about electing Republicans everywhere whose overriding mission would be the destruction of the public sphere, except in those cases where the public sector could be given away . . . to members of the Chamber of Commerce.

Green Party in April: meeting to decide candidates and demonstration against fracking (join us!)

Two events coming up (visit http://gpop.org for the Green Party's website):

Earth Day Demonstration Against Fracking

Date: Thursday, April 21, 2011

Time: 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm

Location: Dept. of Environmental Protection, 2 Main St., Norristown, PA

Notes: Demonstration at DEP to demand a ban on gas drilling. Stop polluting our drinking water as well as our waterways.

This demonstration has been called by the Green Party of Philadelphia and endorsed by Brandywine Peace Community, BuxMont Coalition for Peace Action, Citizens for Clean Water, Green Party of Delaware County, Green Party of Montgomery County, Protecting our Waters and Saint Vincent’s Peace and Justice Ministry.

For more info: Green Party of Phila. 215-243-7103 or gpop@gpop.org.

Green Party Of Phila. General Membership Meeting, 4/28/2011, 7:00 pm (open to public)

Date: Thursday April 28, 2011

Time: 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm

Neighborhood Networks Endorses Six

Neighborhood Networks has endorsed an impressive and inspiring group of candidates in the Spring primary, all of whom care about social justice and global sustainability in ways that their track records tell us is real.

Two of these candidates are incumbents and four would be newly elected, but they all share a commitment to progressive values. Here is the list, and a capsule summary of what is special about each of them.

City Council At-Large -- Challengers

Supporting Sherrie Cohen for City Council --- Intensely

This weekend Neighborhood Networks will be surveying its members and its friends to see whom we should endorse for City Council at Large. We will be surveying not only who people support, but perhaps more importantly, the intensity of that support. Everyone who returns a ballot will be able to vote for five candidates, and will also be able to show the depth of support they feel for those candidates, by giving them anywhere from 1 to 5 points.

I’m giving 5 points to Sherrie Cohen, and 1 or 2 points to several other candidates. I’ll explain my vote more in a moment, but first why are we using the point system at all?

Jeff Hornstein: Progressive, real reform in the 1st district

I'll be the first to admit that I've been out of the activist loop for a while: I am a new mom and I spend most of my day stressing out about feeding and sleeping schedules...but when I read that Frank DiCicco was retiring from City Council, I said to myself, "Wow, Jeff Hornstein could actually win this."

A truly progressive labor organizer with a PhD in his cap, I really can't think of a more ideal candidate to serve the 1st District. Jeff's work at SEIU has been pretty amazing: from organizing grad students at Penn to unionizing janitors - his successful drives have made a real and positive impact on people's livelihoods. I think his can do attitude and forward-thinking policies could transform our city.

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