- Pennsylvania Among 'Terrible 10' Most Regressive Tax States
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- Ask Allyson Schwartz to run for Governor
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- Jan. 14 Workshop:HOW TO RUN FOR ELECTION BOARD IN 2013; HOW TO RUN FOR COMMITTEEPERSON IN 2014
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Why I'm supporting Fattah -- Philosophy Matters
Anyone who's read anything I've written on this blog the last several weeks knows I'm supporting Fattah for Mayor. There's now a big push on, however, to rally around Mike Nutter as the only candidate that can stop Knox. If the other candidates had qualities that were roughly similar, I'd be happy to join the bandwagon. But to me Fattah is miles ahead of the others. So I thought it would be useful, at this point in time, to recap why I think so.
First, a preamble: I went into this election year thinking that the most important contests are those for City Council because it didn't seem to me that there was much of a difference between the mayoral candidates. And I continue to think the Council elections are extremely important. No good mayor can accomplish much, and no bad mayor can be stopped, without a committed, smart, honest and progressive City Council. Neighborhood Networks has endorsed a slate of such great candidates this year, and I hope you all can help them as much as possible. You can find them at the NN website. To see the endorsed list of at-large candidates, you should go to http://www.phillynn.org/files/atlarge.html To see the endorsed District candidates you should go to http://www.phillynn.org/files/district.html
Having said that, I want to turn back to the Mayor's race. I now think the mayoral choices are stark and important. Chaka Fattah stands head and shoulders above the rest. All the others, in my view, should be unacceptable to any voter whose priority concern is social justice. Dwight Evans should be ruled out because he led the fight to privatize the schools and to preempt the City's power to regulate predatory lenders. I doubt many of us are thinking about supporting Knox or Brady, so I need not say much about them. Mike Nutter is in a category all his own and I'll address the dilemma he poses at the end of this post.
But Chaka Fattah is the real deal. I think you all know that he's spent a lifetime fighting for the downtrodden and dispossessed, from the time he and his family began fighting back against the gang menace in West Philly in the seventies, to his innovative and successful promotion of programs to educate at-risk youth in Congress. He is running for mayor now on a platform that would elevate fighting poverty to the central theme of his administration, based on a philosophy that elevating the most dispossessed lifts us all. It is the reverse of the trickle-down economic theory that has pretty much dominated City policy for decades, certainly all my life in Philly which began in 1969. That was a year when the national War on Poverty was coming crashing down due to the War on Vietnam which had so horribly built up. The City tried for awhile to maintain some of the programs that were being abandoned by the federal government, but soon we had Rizzo and Nixon, and the Poverty War was mostly done. Locally we turned to huge construction projects as the key to prosperity, even while we closed Philadelphia's only public hospital, and shifted our goals to a War on Crime as a way to incarcerate, rather than eradicate, the problem of a sharply racist, and class-divided city.
Since then there has been an improvement of tone out of City Hall, but little improvement in policy. Instead there's been a grand experiment with trickle-down. For 22 years I watched as a member of City Council's legal staff as one proposal after another came before that body to put money in the hands of a developer, an entrepreneur, a ball club owner or an entire industry, with little or no assurance that any part of the subsidy would wind up helping the poor. The help was supposed to come naturally, as this building project, or that shopping center, or this new skyscraper, or that new convention center, was slated to create a slew of great new jobs. The school system in the meanwhile was allowed to slip into a state of near oblivion, with the responsibility to fund it left to the state but not actually picked up by the state. Generations of Philadelphians grew up with little or none of the skills needed to take any of the good jobs that actually existed in the city or region, and the low-level service jobs that were created were too low both in wage level and number to sustain families. So after 35 years or so of top-down economics the result is that we now have an official poverty rate of 25%, and a real rate that's much higher. Manufacturing jobs paying a living wage are largely a thing of the past. Housing deterioration is rampant, while thousands of women and children, and single men with no hope, have no homes at all. Many of them have resorted to drugs as an escape, and others, completely abandoned to despair, have resorted to killing each other in increasing numbers. In sum, intense privation has settled like a blanket over vast swaths of the City.
To deal with this catastrophic reality, Fattah has focused like a laser on upgrading the education and marketable skills of those left behind and left out of the current institutional framework for schools and schooling. Thousands of inner city residents of all ages, hopefully tens of thousands, would get the hand up they need to develop an economic future for themselves. To me Fattah's ideas are carefully thought through, and eminently practical and workable, and you can see them all at Fattah's website: http://www.phillyforfattah.com/policy_center_detail.asp?service-id=20552.... But focusing on the details of those programs in this campaign, and whether they are exactly the right ones or not, is to fail to recognize the nature, extent and gravity of the challenge we face. What’s most important about Fattah, and Fattah’s campaign, is that he’s asking us to look at what needs to be done in this town in a totally new way. He calls on us to address poverty frontally; not to put it off, ignore it, or hope it will cure itself. Only if we have that intense focus will we have the patience and collective will to try things out, see what works and doesn't work, and then move on to the next thing and the next thing and the next thing until this giant, massive iceberg of neglect is moved off of our horizon.
Compare this approach to that of Michael Nutter. Nutter is campaigning in support of the narrative of the downtown business elite. That narrative says that what mainly ails us is political corruption, a problem that keeps business from thriving, along with an excess of business taxation. The main "reform" organization in town, the Committee of Seventy, has endorsed both comprehensive political reform, and the tax platform of the Chamber of Commerce which calls for eliminating the main business tax, the Business Privilege Tax. Never mind that eliminating that tax would cost the City about $400 million, or 15% of all the money the City raises in taxes. These things together have been conflated in the public mind with "good government" and good government as so portrayed has been relentlessly promoted in the media as the highest political good.
This agenda has also been Nutter's agenda. And the political reform part of it is pretty good. Nutter has accomplished some good political reforms, notably the creation of a City Ethics Board to try to crack down on the City's pay-to-play culture. But the other part of the agenda plays with the lives of everyone in the City by risking a massive meltdown in City revenues in order to create a "climate" that would encourage businesses to come into the City. There is no evidence that this would actually work in anything like the numbers needed to keep the revenue meltdown from occurring. Furthermore, even the "experts" proposing it say that BPT repeal would result in sharp increases in real estate assessments which would then translate into sharply higher real estate taxes. Thus we'd be trading in a tax on business for a tax shared by business and homeowners alike, and one that is massively regressive on poor homeowners, of whom there are thousands in our city. And once again, our major response to ingrained poverty in our City -- despite Nutter's call for new education initiatives which he likely couldn't afford -- would be another dose of trickle-down economics.
Nutter has recently modified his stance in favor of full repeal of the BPT to now call for the Net Income portion of the tax to be cut to the level of the wage tax. That's an improvement, though still extraordinarily risky without a plan to make up for the lost revenues. But whether he truly intends to limit his proposed cut once in office remains to be seen. While in Council he aggressively pushed for full repeal for the better part of two years.
So for progressives our choice is between a reform-minded friend of the business elite whose notion of reform is one that continues, even reinforces, trickle down economics for the poor, or a lifetime progressive who has spent his whole career seeking to remove the blight that's poverty from his constituents and from our town.
Personally I vastly prefer Fattah's trickle up to Nutter's trickle down as the future story of our city. I hope you do as well, and I hope that you can turn that support into action by going to the Fattah website and signing up to help, and give to, the campaign. Or you can call Ray Murphy, Fattah's volunteer coordinator at 215-636-9850. He'll plug you in right away
And now a disclaimer: The views I've expressed here are solely my own, and not those of Neighborhood Networks which has taken no position on the mayor's race.