POLS ON THE STREET: Peace on Earth as City Budget Bears Fruit

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JEFF ABRAMOWITZ of Reentry Services, R, welcomes Mayor Jim Kenney to a conference at Friends Central Meetinghouse on how to reintegrate former prisoners into the community in a healthy way. This has become a bipartisan statewide issue. Photo by Wendell Douglas

Elected officials are in a mellow mood when there is money to spare, even a little to throw around.

Philadelphia is looking at its first $5-billion budget in history. Ten years ago, $4 billion was the norm.

Ten years ago, a proposal to increase the budget by a big “B” would have triggered panic, seasoned with acrimony. But in 2009, the city was gripped by the Great Recession. Money was nowhere to be seen and the budget process revolved around which painful cuts to make. Ask Michael Nutter what that felt like.

POLITICAL leaders lined up with on South Street with Odunde VIPs: State Rep. Jordan Harris, 2nd from L, with Councilmembers David Oh and Jannie Blackwell, 3rd and 4th from L.

2019 is pleasantly different. The economy is on a roll, taking the city along for the ride. No, even better: The city has actually been growing in population for the first time since 1950. And although Philadelphia is still the poorest large city in the United States, the growing part is not the poor part. That means more taxpayers.

The municipal budget relies heavily on wage and real-estate taxes. Unemployment is low now, so wage-tax receipts are up.

Property-tax receipts are also up. One reason is the boom in property values due to the influx of market-rate development in many neighborhoods. Much of this began around 2000, spurred by the 10-year tax abatement. These properties have been coming off abatement and are yielding fruit to the City’s bottom line.

Another reason is more controversial: the Actual Value Initiative. This reform, which went into effect in 2013, aimed to insert both logic and fairness into a real-estate assessment process that frankly made no sense whatsoever and was completely arbitrary.

ARE RIDESHARE companies like Uber and Lyft being properly regulated? State Sen. Anthony Williams, 3rd from L, convened a Senate hearing on the matter at USciences in University City. Photo by Wendell Douglas

Does the new system make perfect sense now? Has it eliminated all unfairness? Probably not. Apparent discrepancies – especially between the way taxes have gone up in poorer neighborhoods and the cushion enjoyed by tax-abated developments – fueled great heat in the May primary campaign. Many candidates campaigned fiercely against it.

Still, the money came in. And with the main election season over, the mayor and City Council get to spend it. By making constituents happy.

Mayor Jim Kenney’s proposed budget was a hair under $5 billion. City Council topped it off with $30 million more to raise it to $5,025,266,000. Kenney cheerily went along.

The added money will go to the School District (newly restored to local control), affordable housing, services for returning ex-offenders, the public defender’s office, homeless services and the Department of Licenses & Inspections (about which there is widespread agreement that it is under-resourced).

MUMS & MUTTS founder Megan McFarland is flanked by M & M Board Member Fred Druding, Jr., L, and Councilman Allan Domb at the Mummers Museum where the organization hosted a gala celebrating 10 years of the Mummers helping countless homeless pets in Philly.

Property-tax breaks for some homeowners were also included.

The deadline for a final vote on the budget in City Council is June 30. June 20 is its last scheduled meeting for the session. But there is a good chance the vote will be taken today, since everybody seems to be in a good mood … and it’s been a long, tiring campaign season.

SC Rules: No Dual-Party Vote for Candidates

State Rep. Chris Rabb (D-Northwest) won his last election. But he just lost a Pennsylvania Supreme Court case over how he wanted to win it.

Having narrowly defeated an opponent in the 2018 Democratic primary, Rabb was unopposed in the November general election. However, the progressive Working Families Party had also nominated him; it wanted Rabb to appear on the ballot under its column as well as the Democratic column.

LABORERS Local 332 rose to a call from North Central neighbors to clean up an alley that had turned into an illegal dumping site. Laborers activist Jonathan Gary, 2nd from L, consults on battle plan with Ward Leader Gary Williams. Photo by Wendell Douglas

This is allowed. But under Pennsylvania law, Rabb’s Democratic vote could not be totaled up with his Working Families vote, a process known as “electoral fusion.” This is legal in many states but here, Rabb could only win by counting one party’s vote.

Since he was unopposed, it didn’t matter this time. But Rabb was fighting for principle. He is philosophically opposed to the two-party system, which he calls a “duopoly.” He argued that voters should be able to cast third-party votes in a way that has actual power to elect candidates instead of just serving as a spoiler.

No such luck, said the Supremes. Pennsylvania’s exclusionary practices against third parties, some of the strictest in the nation, remain secure for now.

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