The Philly Mayoral Race So Far

Education activists: Anybody but Williams

Planning activists: Anybody but Clarke

Budding conflict over whether to back Ken Trujillo or Terry Gillen as the non-stupid alternative to the two big jawns.

Lynne Abraham re-announcing every time somebody new gets in the race, or mentions maybe getting in the race.

Anything else?

Posted in Elections, Philadelphia 2015

Lame Duck Corbett Trying to Sabotage Real Medicaid Expansion

Tom Wolf thumped Tom Corbett on Election Day running on, among other things, real Medicaid expansion.

But apparently Corbett didn’t get the message the voters sent him, because he’s apparently planning to spend his remaining months in office trying to lock in his fake Medicaid privatization plan, and make it harder for Tom Wolf to keep his promise to bring Pennsylvania the real thing.

This plan is much more expensive than simply accepting the real Medicaid expansion, but apparently running up a $2 billion structural deficit wasn’t satisfying enough for our failed Governor.

Posted in Elections, Governor, Health

#GOPorno Scandal – Now With Kids!

This doesn’t sound like child pornography exactly, but it seems we have not reached the upper bound of how gross this is going to get. No wonder Frank Fina wanted the courts to turn off the firehose of humiliation.

Posted in Ethics, Issues

“I Bought This Property With the Expectation That…”

…is never really going to be a valid argument in any land use debate.

Just because some people invested (translation: bet) their money on a certain outcome doesn’t mean public policymakers have some responsibility to those people not to do anything that changes the prospects (good or bad) of return on that investment, or changes the character of the neighborhood.

You invest with a reasonable expectation of what things are probably going to be like in the future, but that doesn’t give you some right to freeze in time the whole neighborhood, and it definitely doesn’t bar other democratic actors who prefer a different outcome from winning elections and changing the relevant laws.

Prior to 2009, some people invested in hospitals expecting big returns as health care costs were projected to rise onward and upward forevermore. Then we passed the Affordable Care Act, and that’s expected to squeeze hospital profit margins.

People who invested in hospitals made a bet on a certain outcome, and they’re going to make less money than they thought. Did the government have a responsibility to their investments? Of course not, they had a responsibility to further the public interest of universal health insurance. You can change the law even if it hurts some people’s investments.

In the Royal Theater case, sure it would be better if we had rule of law, not of man, and a pretty liberal allowance for density on South St combined with a pretty strict adherence to the letter of the zoning code.

But there’s nothing inherently illegitimate about the Councilmanic rezonings, because it’s all just politics. The root cause of the problem is that people don’t want to zone South Street in a way that makes the economics of mixed-use developments pencil out by-right, so we get all these legislative rezonings through the district Council offices and variance requests.

Any way you look at it, the process is legitimate, although clearly a stricter rule-based process such as Ori Feibush prefers would be best, since it would result in fewer process-based redevelopment obstacles, a faster pace of new construction, and lower barriers to entry for national and international development firms to work in Philly.

Posted in Economic Development, Economy, Issues, Land Use

Professional Scam Operation Great at Scamming, Not So Great at Teaching Kids

Stop giving these people our money!

A new study by Research for Action has found that Pennsylvania’s cyber-charter sector continues to yield subpar results on the state’s standardized tests.

Using the state’s recently released school performance profile data for 2013-14, RFA found the average School Performance Profile score for the cyber-charter sector was 48.9 – well below the averages for the state’s brick and mortar charters and traditional public schools.

To date, no cyber charter has earned a SPP of 70 or higher, the state Department of Education’s quality threshold.


Proponents of cyber charter education have argued that broad-based comparisons to other sectors are misleading because their charters tend to serve a particularly vulnerable subset of the population.

In fact, cyber charters enroll a lower percentage of economically disadvantaged students than bricks-and-mortar charters, and they serve very few English language learners.

Posted in Education, Issues

Make It Harder, Not Easier, to Get Property Tax Exemptions

Rep. Mike Hanna nails it. The local property tax exemption for charitable organizations is already way too loose, and should become tighter.

Property-tax exemptions should be distributed about as easily as manhole covers are tossed about. If not, more of the tax burden falls on homeowners, who already are shouldering an unfair load of an unfair tax.

In some communities, nonprofits consume two-thirds of properties, and their tax-exempt status makes it impossible for local governments to levy fair taxes to pay for police and fire protection, schools and infrastructure.

Any proposal to tinker with our constitution should be viewed warily. However, the public-charities amendment is advancing without even a single public hearing.

Both the process and the policy are suspect. The amendment, I believe, would uphold an unfair system where large health-care organizations with multimillions of dollars in revenue are judged by the same standards as the local boys’ and girls’ club.

Thinking about the rationale for the exemption, the idea is that charitable services deserve exemption from taxes because they are providing public services at least equal to, or possibly better than what the government would otherwise spend that money on (police, public education, etc.)

We do want to encourage people to spend more on these services and their programmatic activities with the tax exemption. What we don’t want to do is create a perverse incentive for charitable organizations to gobble up a bunch of land. That does not make any sense.

Non-profits really should have to keep paying the portion of the property tax levied on land, and receive an exemption for operations. But we should also be tightening up the code so that giant hospital corporations like UPMC that are only technically organized as charities don’t get the tax-exempt classification.


Posted in Budget, Economic Development, Issues

Municipal Consolidation is About Capacity and Equity, Not Lower Taxes

There’s a reason that the local governments with highest per-capita costs in New Jersey are both the richest and the poorest. The richest areas want more and better services, and the poorest areas have increased need for the most expensive services (law enforcement and education, namely.) Both have high taxes. The rural areas with low taxes also have crap services.

The whole point of doing this isn’t really lowering taxes, it’s keeping taxes the same and getting more for your money, and also pulling rich suburbs into the city tax bases.

Horrifyingly, the vast majority of PA’s police officers are part-time and have just a few officers who don’t specialize in anything in particular – glorified mall cops, basically. If you had county police forces, a bunch of those cops could be full-time cops, and you could have different specialized units (homicide, drug enforcement, traffic), and more scheduling flexibility for trainings, vacations, etc.

And then there’s the equity selling point too – when you make Cherry Hill and other rich suburban areas throw in for more cops in Camden, you’ve essentially got a regional progressive tax and transfer scheme going. The authors of the new study linked at the top point out that savings tend to be limited since municipal taxes are a lot lower than school taxes, but that’s obviously an argument for school district consolidation too, not against municipal consolidation.

Totally get that tax cuts are the best political selling point for this stuff, but you know, if it doesn’t actually work out that way when people vote for consolidation, other places are going to figure that out and keep not voting for it.

“Get more value for the same money” or “hey remember, you’re liberals and like progressive taxes.”

Posted in Budget, Issues, Regional Politics, Social Services

Weird Arguments About Democrats and the South

What is with this urge to invent alternative theories to white working class blowback over the Civil Rights Act as an explanation for the total Republican takeover of the South? That’s what it was!

Posted in Elections, US House, US Senate

Never Forget: PA GOP Cut State’s Share of Education Spending from 44% to 33%

Democrats would have a much stronger rhetorical position in the education funding debate if they just dealt in simple percentages, and left Republicans to bore voters with tedious quibbling over the baseline and the raw spending numbers.

Thinking about it in terms of percentages, the story is much easier to tell.

The state’s share of education funding got up to around 44% by the end of the Rendell administration, and was supposed to keep increasing, as per the “Costing Out” study’s recommendations, which had some bipartisan political buy-in back then.

Then the 2010 shitwave happened, Republicans got full control of state government, and they cut the state share down to 32%. It bumped up a teensy bit to 33% in the last budget, but is still criminally low.

For context, the national average is about 48%, and Tom Wolf wants to take it up to 50%.

Posted in Budget, Education, Issues

What Accountability? Dermocrats Win Despite Inexplicable House Losses

Here’s how this whole caucus leadership thing works, since it looks like no Democrats can play this game.

You give somebody a job to do, and if they do a good job, you let them try it again. If they don’t do a good job, you let somebody else try. It’s not hard.

Posted in Elections, State House