POLS ON THE STREET: Don’t Tax You, Don’t Tax Me; Tax That Man Behind That Tree

Filed under: Featured News |

LAST MONTH witnessed the inauguration of giant new cranes at Philaport in South Philadelphia. U.S. Senator Bob Casey, speaking, Gov. Tom Wolf and a host of other officials celebrated their acquisition. As large as any in the world, they are capable of discharging containers from ultra-large container vessels with capacities ranging from 10,000 to 20,000 TEU. They will be ready for UCLVs when the Delaware River channel deepening is completed this year. Port traffic is already soaring.

Just by looking at the calendar, it’s obvious that all proposed tax hikes face an uphill battle both on Capitol Hill and in City Hall this year.

That’s because the all-important political races of the next 12 months – in the statewide November general election and in the 2019 municipal primary – are underway now. Since all politicians who affect Philadelphians’ lives are running for their supper right now, it is a safe bet that many will talk about raising money for important public goods – but no legislator will vote for a tax increase that stands any chance of being enacted.

At the State level, the Republican-run General Assembly and the Democratic-held Governor’s Mansion are in rare agreement that no new taxes are really needed.

State Rep. Garth Everett (R-Lycoming) put it bluntly: “It is an election year. You aren’t going to see any tax increase in an election year. That’s the way things are in elective politics.” Everett, an Appropriations Committee member, knows this field.

IN ADVANCE of last weekend’s Odunde festival, the 2300 block of South Street was renamed “Lois Fernandez Way” in honor of its founder. Holding the street sign was current Odunde leader Bumi Fernandez-West, joined by her extended family. Councilman Kenyatta Johnson City Council honored her with a citation; he was accompanied in the picture by Councilwomen Jannie Blackwell and Helen Gym, as well as radio personality Patty Jackson. Councilman Al Taubenberger and State Rep. Jordan Harris also attended. Photo by Leona Dixon

Both state parties have floated potential tax increases. Both are sure to fail.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has again proposed a natural-gas severance tax. Although this is normal practice everywhere else in energy-producing America, it’s a non-starter in Appalachian Pennsylvania, which has always favored surrendering its wealth to outsiders for as little as possible in return.

But Wolf isn’t talking much about gas revenues now. He’s talking about the July 1 deadline for a new budget, and how it should be met.

On the Republican side of Harrisburg, the biggest new tax idea is to tax – surprise! Philadelphia. With its high poverty rate.

The tax in question is the soda tax, fiercely pressed by Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, which will fund pre-K education, parks and recreation centers, and a host of other public goods – if declared legal. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has heard arguments on this tax and will likely declare it legal.

But now comes a bill introduced by influential State Rep. Mark Mustio (R-Allegheny) that would prohibit Philadelphia from taxing soda distributors in particular. Instead, Mustio offered, Philadelphia would be free to increase the sales tax on all goods from 8% to 8.25-8.5%.

Mustio’s proposal sent Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, whose brainchild the soda tax is, into predictable apoplexy.

Kenney teamed up with City Council President Darrell Clarke (with whom he is not always on the same page) on a statement that an across-the-board sales-tax hike “would have a devastating impact on the retail industry that the beverage-industry lobbyists now claim is caused” by the beverage tax.

Beverage-industry lobbyist Tony Campisi is organizing this legislation. He is solidly backed by Philadelphia beverage companies and grocery leaders like Jeff Brown, a ShopRite franchisee with a strong track record of working with Philadelphia’s Democrats and promoting progressive causes.

It’s a good try. But it will die. Gov. Wolf will veto it if it passes and there will not be the votes to override it.

Tax proposals like these above are votes for legislators to run on, not for them to govern with.

Pa. Budget Calm; Philly Thunderstorm

SHERIFF Jewell Williams joined Judge Daniel Anders, Philadelphia’s first openly gay judge, at Gay Pride March last Saturday.

By the time you read this newspaper, you’ll have a clearer idea of the shape of the City of Philadelphia’s 2018-19 budget than we did when we went to press.

That’s because a lot of its biggest features will be hammered out in City Council’s Thursday meeting. Two more weeks remain to fine-tune the details; typically, though, the mid-June Council meeting gives observers an accurate picture of the end game.

So call your Council member later this afternoon and ask what the City’s plan for next year is likely to look like.

Key issues are whether property tax should be hiked and wage tax should be maintained to pay for the School Board’s budget down the road, or whether savings can be found in ongoing City program not part of the Rebuild program – which is off limits even to soda-tax foes.

It’s hard for observers without accounting degrees and access to City books to say who’s right. Politically, though, kicking the revenue can down the road is the easiest course of action. And our politicians, in the end, are no different from the rest of us: They want to get from here to Friday with as little aggro as possible.

Guv’s Race: How Bad Is Business in Pa.?

As is often the case, the Pennsylvania governor’s race centers on the economy. Rightly or wrongly, voters expect the governor to make money for them.

So is Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf making money for you? Depends on whom you ask.

ENJOYING an evening of jazz on the lawn of the Alleyne residence in Mt. Airy were many friends of Derek Green, including, L-R, Craig & Jennifer Alleyne, Kelly Bauer, Councilman Derek Green and Greg David. Photo by Wendell Douglas

The Pennsylvania Republican Party argues that Wolf’s economic record is a loser. PAGOP’s latest argument runs as follows:

“The truth is, although the governor may be too out of touch to realize it, under his leadership Pennsylvania is at the bottom of the list in nearly every economic category. Below is a breakdown of economic statistics:

“44 – Pennsylvania’s unemployment ranking.

“10 – Months Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate was stagnant at 4.8% before dropping by 0.1% in April.

“25 – Net percent Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate has shifted in comparison with the national average since Tom Wolf took office (Was 5% lower in January 2015 and is now over 20% higher.)

AT A JOINT free document shredding at Motivation High School in Angora, State Sen. Anthony Williams’ aide Christopher Lowery and Sherrise Rowe from Eastwick oversaw a successful operation.

“46 – Pennsylvania’s ranking in terms of best state to find a job (Wallethub).

“45 – Pennsylvania’s ranking in terms of best state to start a business (Wallethub).

“44 – Pennsylvania’s corporate-tax ranking (Tax Foundation).

“39 – Pennsylvania’s overall economy ranking (Business Insider).”

All tough charges. But two facts complicate Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner’s campaign. One matters little to voters – evidence; one matters more – everyday life.

The first problem is that Pennsylvania’s economy has been stagnant for generations, compared to other states. Hardly a right-vs.-left problem. Neither Democrats nor Republicans have demonstrated a magic formula to convert our Rustbelt economy into a Sunbelt economy. Making it a partisan issue, while impossible to avoid, is certain to be false.

The second problem is that even in laggard Pennsylvania, times are pretty good now – especially in the urban Southeast. What do voters in Allentown and Lancaster and the Philadelphia region actually have to complain about? Why should they rise up against the incumbent Gov. Wolf?

Voters northwest of the Blue Ridge have more reason to complain. Their counties are stagnant. But they voted against Wolf last time and still lost. They came out for Trump and won – but continued to lose, economically. Voting will not fix their problems. After a while, protest-voter fatigue is apt to set in.

While the Keystone State’s political leaders have seldom shone in advancing its economic competitiveness vis-à-vis the rest of the world, they have seldom paid a price at the polls for it either. Don’t expect anyone to win the November election in Pennsylvania on the notion that the incumbents aren’t good at business. Too many Pennsylvanians are accustomed to not being good at business, accustomed to hanging on, accustomed to going sideways.

They’ll keep on living with that. And they’ll wind up living with their incumbents, more often than not.

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