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 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

Council at Large Choices

Here’s why I’m voting for Sherrie Cohen, Helen Gym, Bill Greenlee, Wilson Goode, and Derek Green for City Council at Large We have, it seems, almost an embarrassment of good candidates for Council at Large this year including both challengers and incumbents. But look closely and a few stand out above the others, not just because they have good characters and good ideas but because they have the potential to bring something to Philadelphia politics that we have long needed—a connection and commitment to engaging the public, and especially the progressive / labor community,  in politics. When I ran myself for this position in 2007 I said, repeatedly, that politics was broken in Philadelphia. That’s a little less so today in large because of some new voices, and reinvigorated old voices in Council and because of the efforts of Council President Darrel Clarke to make Council more assertive. But one … Continue reading

PGW, Darrell Clarke, and the Papers

In a city that, despite its recent growth, has a poverty rate of 30.2% and schools that have been devastated by deep budget cuts, our two daily newspapers are now crusading to….sell the gas works. In a city that has suffered from a governor who demanded those education cuts and a mayor who was ineffective in blocking them, our two daily papers are now crusading…to make City Council President Darrell Clarke, public enemy number one. This crusade is, fortunately for Philadelphia, not working. Unless I missed a protest at Council or sit-in at Dilworth Park, the city is not rallying to the cause of selling PGW or tarring and feathering Darrell Clarke. Nor should they. The sale of PGW proposed by Mayor Nutter remains a bad deal. And outside of a couple of blocks in Center City and a few pages on Facebook, most Philadelphians know it. I explained the … Continue reading

A last word on the Controller’s race

The response to our letter on Brett Mandel has been predictable, and for the most part good. Many progressives who have shared our qualms about Brett have come out and taken a public position. And many of those progressives who support Brett have denounced us for joining a “ward leader, party hack” who is backed by Bob Brady and John Dougherty. To the larger first group I say thanks and I encourage you keep getting the word out. Share our letter via email and Facebook. Join the Progressives against Mandel group on Facebook. The second group, I want to suggest you take this episode as a learning experience about politics. First, politics is about coalition building. It’s about getting people together in support of legislation or a candidate who might not agree on other matters. People don’t wear black hats and white hats in politics. With very few exceptions, all … Continue reading

My Brett Mandel Problem–and Ours.

Political life is sometimes difficult, especially when friendship and ideology come into conflict. I made a difficult decision the other day, to sign a statement opposing Brett Mandel’s candidacy for City Controller. Elections are blunt instruments for expressing one’s preferences because multiple concerns come into play when we decide for whom to vote. And that’s why my decision was so hard. I consider Brett a friend. I like him a great deal. I respect his mind and his commitment to the good of the city. There are a few people in the city whose ideas I always take into account when making up my own mind. Brett is one of them. I agree with Brett on many things. But I’ve decided that I can’t vote for him for Controller. Good Government If I were to focus all of my attention on good government issues like transparency, honesty, openness, and government … Continue reading

What’s the rush? Save the Cohen wage tax rebate!

One of the last accomplishments of long time progressive Councilmember David Cohen—a rebate on the wage tax for those with low incomes—may be repealed tomorrow. It shouldn’t be. There are good policy arguments both for and against the wage tax rebate. I’ll come to some of them in a moment. But, frankly, at the moment those arguments are secondary. The key reason not to repeal the legislation tomorrow is that the decision to put off AVI for a year means that Council is going carry out a broad examination of taxation in the city next year. The Cohen wage tax rebate is not scheduled to go into effect until 2016 anyway. So there is plenty of time to reconsider it as we think through the future of taxation in Philadelphia. Any city like Philadelphia has to balance considerations of progressivity and economic growth. While, progressive taxation has very little negative … Continue reading