No Time For Giving Up

It appears that members of the General Assembly are moving towards a final plan for funding the budget they passed in June. We share the sense of relief that is gradually emanating from the Capitol—we, too, are tired of talking about the budget. But we also know that the urge to get something done can sometimes overcome the urge to get it done right. So now is the time for members to demand that this budget not just be finished but be finished right. That means two things. First, that the revenue plan include sufficient recurring tax revenue to address our long-term structural deficit. The pain of the last three months will be for naught if the state finds itself facing an even larger deficit on July 1, 2018. A large deficit in an election year offers too much temptation for the worst kind of budget chicanery and gimmickry, which … Continue reading

Another Term for Alan Butkovitz

In all excitement about the DA’s race, a lot of Philadelphians have not paid much attention to the Controller’s race, also on the ballot. My choice in that race, as it was four years ago, is Alan Butkovtiz. Four years ago I wrote this in support of him against an opponent who had a strong record as an independent thinker on budget matters: “If you actually read the reports of our Controllers, as I have for many years, you will see that under Alan Butkovitz, the office of the Controller has done some exemplary work. His report on emergency medical response and the follow up reports are fabulous (and address an issue I care a great deal about and campaigned on in 2007.) He’s revelations of corruption in the Sherriff’s office has led to criminal investigations and civil action to recover millions of dollars. He’s issued many other reports pointing to wasteful spending and sources … Continue reading

About That Letter About Larry

  There is a letter from 12 “former Assistant DAs” calling on voters not to vote for Larry Krasner on the grounds that he has never been a prosecutor, that he has been misleading in criticizing the culture of the District Attorney’s office, and that our safety will be at risk. Not only do I not find the letter plausible, for a number of reasons, large and small, the more I read it and learn about those who signed it the more appalled by it I get. To start with the big reasons. First, we don’t need to take Larry Krasner’s word for the problems in the DA’s office. There is plenty of independent evidence. We know that mass incarceration, especially of black men, is a serious problem across America and the rate of incarceration in Philadelphia is among the highest in the country. We know that the Philadelphia DA’s … Continue reading

Larry Krasner for DA

I generally don’t get involved in electoral politics now. But I’m going to make one exception this year and tell you that I plan to vote for Larry Krasner for DA. And the reason I’m making the exception is that I’m not just a little with him. I feel the same way about him that I did about Helen Gym two years ago and a really special candidate for city council at large in 2007. He is the only candidate I see who can look at the DA’s office with fresh eyes and stop and think about how it can contribute to the well being of the city as opposed to tinkering around the edges of an on-going operation. He’s the only candidate who understands the rot in the PPD and who is willing to do the hard work (and absorb the punishment he will receive for doing it) in … Continue reading

Facts, Not Hysteria, About the Soda Tax

Originally published by the Philadelphia Business Journal on April 20, 2017. Also at Third and State.  Co-authored by Diana Polson. The reaction of the beverage industry to the Philadelphia soda tax continues to be self-centered, hysterical, and dubious. Before looking at their claims, let’s keep in mind something very important: every tax has some negative consequences for some businesses. And, yes, it is a shame if some business absorbs some costs and a few people lose jobs as a result. But public policy has to be driven by the consequences for all of us. So, the question is not whether an individual business is hurt by the Philadelphia soda tax, but whether the city and its citizens benefit on the whole. We think the answer is clearly yes, not just because of the investment in Pre-K education and community recreation centers made possible by this tax, but because of the … Continue reading

Not Necessarily Corrupt

I don’t know any more than anyone else does of the FBI raids on Local 98 offices, the home of John J. Dougherty, and the office of Councilman Bobby Henon. Which is to say I know nothing, just like everyone else. And that’s why I’ve objected to the rush to conclude that any of those raided must have done something wrong or that Local 98 is corrupt. And even more, I’ve objected to people saying that this is one more example of the corruption of Philadelphia politics or of Philadelphia labor unions that “everyone knows about,” as one reporter put it today. We don’t know any of that and saying it doesn’t make it so. Is there some corruption in Philadelphia city government? I have no doubt there is. But I’ve got no reason to think it’s worse in Philadelphia than in any other big cities not to mention in smaller … Continue reading

Why Philly Needs the Sugary Drink Tax

Originally appeared on the Third and State Blog on May 25, 2016 As we move closer to a City Council vote on the sugary drink tax proposal, I want to offer some final thoughts about the idea and correct some misapprehensions about it: 1.While the tax itself is regressive, and the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center almost always opposes regressive taxation, the program as a whole is not regressive. To begin with, the opponents of the tax are simply wrong about one aspect of it. They have been arguing that it is doubly regressive because members of low-income families consume sugary drinks at higher rates than middle- and high-income families or that African-Americans drink sugary drinks at higher rates than white people (and keep in mind that these are two groups not one). Those are myths. The research on this issue is equivocal and does not support that claim. 2. … Continue reading

Those Feeling the Brunt of the Soda Tax Will Also Feel Benefits

Originally published as Those feeling brunt of soda tax will also feel benefits, Philadelphia Daily News, April 19, 2016 THE SUGARY-DRINK tax proposed by Mayor Kenney, also known as the “soda tax,” is controversial because it takes a greater share of the income from poor families than rich ones. And since we at the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center are fundamentally committed to economic justice, we are always inclined to be suspicious of taxes that do that. So it may come as a surprise that we have concluded, overall, that the sugary-drink tax proposed by the mayor is a good idea. Though the costs fall more heavily on those with low incomes, for two reasons, more of the benefit of the tax will go to low-income Philadelphians, as well. The first benefit of the tax flows from how the new revenue will be spent – on pre-K education, community schools, and … Continue reading

For City Commissioner: Carol Jenkins and Lisa Deeley

Two candidates for City Commissioner stand far above all the others. Carol Jenkins and Lisa Deeley. City Commissioner is one of those row offices that carries out a really important function that is utterly unknown to most people. The City Commissioners are responsible for making sure that the machinery of our elections—from the books that contain the names of registered voters to the voting machines that record our votes—work and work fairly. When that machinery doesn’t work, as it nearly didn’t in 2012, people can be denied the basic right central to democratic politics. When the machinery of our elections is used to help one party or one faction or one candidate rather another—when polling places are moved to help some candidates or you have to know someone on the inside to even get the results of previous elections—then our elections are fundamentally unfair. When the Commissioners do their basic … Continue reading

Jim Kenney, With Pleasure

I’m going to vote for Jim Kenney for Mayor next week. One reason, as I wrote earlier in the week, is to stop the Four Billionaires from electing a Mayor. But there is another reason as well. I think he could be a really good mayor. That he’s even running tells you a lot about why. Kenney got into the race late when the most likely candidate to take up the labor / progressive mantel against Tony Williams, Darrell Clarke and Alan Butkovtiz declined to run. Clarke and Butkovitz had their own reasons not to run, but certainly one consideration was that Williams had broad support and the promise, which turned into reality, of getting a huge amount of funding from the Three Billionaires. Kenney had that reason to not run, as well. But, when the possibility of getting in late opened up when Ken Trujillo dropped out and Butkovtiz … Continue reading