At a rally outside Philadelphia International Airport today, workers and members of Fight for Philly and SEIU 32BJ protested airport workers' wages and turned the focus on Mayor Nutter and City Council.
“[Nutter] can literally change the lives of thousands of workers,” said Rev. Greg Holston of the New Vision United Methodist Church in Philadelphia. The call to reform comes in anticipation of a hearing during which members of City Council will review the lease agreement between the city and US Airways. Currently, airport and airline subcontractors employe nearly a thousand workers who earn a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, or $2.83 plus tips.
The "Poverty at PHL Doesn't Fly" campaign seeks the extension of the 21st Century Living Wage and Benefits Standard to airport workers. The standard has been in place since 2005, and City Council recently passed an ordinance introduced by Councilman Wilson Goode Jr. to extend that living wage — 150 percent of federal minimum wage — to employees of airport subcontractors and sub-lessees. However, the administration informed Council that it was not bound by that ordinance and would not, therefore, enforce it.
Workers say that being employed by a subcontractor does not make their needs any less than those employed by primary contractors.
“We want [to be paid] enough to make us feel dignified and human,” said Onethea McKnight, an airport worker for 10 years who has never received a raise from her $7-per-hour starting wage.
Next up, workers and activists are inviting the Mayor and City Council to, “walk a day in our shoes” during which the Mayor or a City Council member would spend a day following an airport worker around, from “the moment they get up in the morning … to the moment they go to bed at night,” said Julie Blust of 32BJ.
Occupy Philly tables decision on whether to get permit; Mayor Nutter (updated: will not) provide electric feed for Phillies game
Occupy Philly protesters held a lengthy meeting last night to decide two questions: whether or not to accept "fiscal sponsorship" from Jobs With Justice — meaning they would use that non-profit's tax-exempt status to receive donations; and whether or not to apply for a permit for the demonstration from the city. Also, Mayor Nutter's spokesman said the city would look into helping the group watch the Phillies game.
The Occupy Philly protesters have formed several committees — in charge of everything from sanitation to media outreach to security and safety. Each committee gave a brief report before the assembly moved on to the agenda.
The process by which these decisions were made was a consensus-based vote of the "General Assembly" — essentially, as many members of the group who cared to participate in the meeting, easily more than a hundred people last night.
Each item up for a vote was explained to the crowd. Following that, the speakers facilitated clarifying questions from the crowd. Following that, members were invited to share their opinions. Next step: a non-binding straw poll, to see how close the group was to consensus.
The first item — fiscal sponsorship — passed muster, though not before crowd members asked several questions, including whether accepting de facto nonprofit status was an endorsement of the U.S. tax system.
The decision whether to apply for a permit was tabled, after the group came close — but apparently not close enough — to a near-consensus on the matter. Mayor spokesman Mark McDonald, present for the entire meeting, made it clear that the city would grant the permit more or less immediately. While the group itself would have to submit a timeline for the event, McDonald seemed unconcerned about the duration.
"If we have to renew it, we'll renew it," McDonald told CP.
After the vote was tabled — it will be taken up again today — McDonald told City Paper:
"In a city steeped in the traditions of Quakerism, the General Assembly has decided that they want a greater consensus — even though overwhelmingly the vote was in favor of getting a permit. But I understand."
"They're also asking for an electric feed so they can have a TV to watch the baseball game tomorrow night," McDonald added. "We have to check, but we will certainly give it every consideration."
More Occupy Philly stuff:
- Check out Daniel Denvir's opinion piece: Occupy Philly should apply for the permit.
- Check out my latest Man Overboard! column: Occupy Philly owes no justification of itself.
Yesterday, the Inquirer reported that the Nutter administration has rejected a grant of an undisclosed amount for anti-obesity programs from the Children's Hospital of Pennsylvania (CHOP).
The reason, said Health Commissioner Donald Schwartz, is that the money originates from a $10 million grant to CHOP from the American Beverage Industry — an industry that lobbied hard to kill Mayor Michael Nutter's proposed tax on sweetened beverages, which the administration hoped would help curb obesity.
The administration characterized the decision as a matter of principle. Schwartz told the Inquirer that "We should not be receiving funding from the beverage industry to fund a program in the city ... because we wouldn't take funding like that from other industries, like the gun industry or the tobacco industry ... We have taken a stand that opposes the products that they sell." Shortly after the news broke, Nutter tweeted the following: "Taking money from Big Soda to fight obesity is like taking money from the NRA to fight guns. You can't buy this City Hall."
Yet Nutter has received substantial donations to his own campaign fund from Big Beverage, as recently as this year — long after he began pushing for the industry-hated tax. Local soda magnate Harold Honickman, who lobbied hard and heavy against Nutter's bills, has donated generously to the mayor, along with family members.
Sure, the Philadelphia School District superintendent is leaving just before classes start; but there's real news to report today: Mayor Nutter has rapped again.
Famous (or infamous) for his previous raps — most or all of which were the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight," — Nutter answered whatever voice it is in him that compels him to occasionally and inoffensively rap again this weekend, as captured by ABC 6.
It was, we should note, for a cause (other than to give a lot to the cause 'cause the cause has been risen), in this case to recognize, along with Will Smith, Philadelphia rapper Lady B at the Dell Music Center.
What, exactly, he was rapping wasn't clear from the video to this reporter. We've put out a call to the Mayor's Press Office.
Mayor spokesman Mark McDOnald has confirmed that the mayor was, indeed, performing "Rapper's Delight."
"As far as I know, he only does Rapper's Delight," McDonald wrote in an email.
This month, the nonpartisan watchdog Committee of Seventy testified that the city should wait six months before enforcing its new lobbying law, which requires that lobbyists register with the city and sometimes file expense reports starting July 1.
The group wholeheartedly supports the new law — and still wants lobbyists to follow it in meantime — but believes that several “ambiguities” must be cleared up before the city issues penalties for breaking it.
Two organizations have joined Seventy in this complaint: the Philadelphia Bar Association and the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. Both groups argued before the Ethics Board that the new rules are unclear, and the Chamber of Commerce argued that the city shouldn’t implement the lobbying law at all for the next six months.
In the spirit of full disclosure that such a law promotes, it may be worth noting: The Chamber of Commerce is among the Committee of Seventy’s biggest donors. According to the nonprofit’s tax filings, Seventy received $50,000 in contributions from that group between 2008 and 2009. Local law firms, including Pepper Hamilton LLP and Morgan and Lewis & Bockius, are are also among Seventy’s bigger donors.
Is the Committee of Seventy speaking on behalf of these groups?
Ellen Kaplan, Seventy’s vice president, strongly denies that the watchdog is speaking for its donors. She argues that the law’s recently-published ground rules have left many questions unanswered — like what lobbying is, exactly, and what it isn’t — and the city should clarify them before enforcing the law.
“Obviously, there are some members who contribute to this organization who want these answers,” she says. "But we don’t represent anybody’s views other than our own.”
The Ethics Board hasn't made any public announcements about whether it will delay enforcement of the law in response to these groups. But Ethics Board staff say that it could be considered at its next meeting, on July 20.
Meanwhile, an unrelated technical issue may put the lobbying law on hold: The Ethics Board has announced that the electronic system that lobbyists will be required to register on won't be ready by the original July 1 deadline, partly due to funding issues. They expect the system will be ready around July 18, though — but if it's not, the Ethics Board will not be able enforce the lobbying law.
On Thursday, as you hopefully know by know, City Council approved a small hike in property taxes and parking fees to help raise extra money for the Philadelphia School District, which faces a massive budget shortfall. The vote occurred after a marathon 12-day series of Council sessions, interrupted by hours-long recesses during which Council members negotiated behind closed doors.
The facts of what transpired behind those doors aren’t in much dispute, but their meaning is — kind of like the film classic Rashomon, in which various narrators tell the same story as they perceive it, making the “truth” difficult to pin down.
Here is the Rashomon-like story of what you missed.
The Big “?”
It’s hard to believe, but the truth was this: as hundreds of people — lobbyists, school kids and educators, union members, politicos, labor activists (and at least a dozen reporters) — poured into City Hall on Thursday, clogging the metal detectors outside City Council’s chambers, a plan was not yet in place.
Despite the fact that School District’s enormous looming budget gap had been known to anyone paying attention for months, and despite the fact that a clear majority of City Council members favored helping provide more funds to the ailing district, and after weeks of hearings (mysteriously — or suspiciously — postponed until after the city’s primary election season) on the School District’s troubled budget — the city’s legislative body had yet to arrive on a decision about what it was going to do about it.
Mayor Nutter had offered two alternatives: a 10% hike in the city’s property tax, or a tax
on sweetened beverages — his favored piece of legislation, and which he had pushed hard for, and failed to get passed, last year. Either, the mayor said, would raise something just shy of $100 million for schools.
City Council had come up with a few of its own alternatives: a 3.5 mills (3.85 percent, according to city finance director Rob Dubow) property tax hike combined with higher parking fees and some money from the city’s reserve fund, proposed by Councilman Darrell Clarke, and a proposal by Councilman Bill Green to take the bulk of the money from the city’s reserve fund. These proposals would raise less money — somewhere in the ballpark of $50-60 million, about half of what the District had officially requested.
Mayor Nutter opposed both of Council’s plans — but especially that offered by Green, calling it fiscally irresponsible. The well-known personal anisaysmosity between the two, no doubt, didn’t improve the Mayor’s opinion.
Nine votes are needed to pass a bill out of City Council, but twelve votes are needed to override the mayor’s veto. On Thursday morning, the fate of any of those four options was uncertain: at least seven or eight votes (ten, according a source within the administration, but which CP was unable to confirm elsewhere) had been lined up for the mayor’s “soda tax,” but there was also a substantial number of votes for a property tax alternative to soda. Whatever heat Council members had taken over a property tax hike last year, they were taking plenty now from the powerful beverage lobby that had been raining money on Philadelphia since the mayor reintroduced the tax.
Despite reports all week that soda was “fizzling” among City Council members, the mayor’s tax could possibly have passed on Thursday, by all accounts. A 9 or 10-person majority had been lined up, and, as Council recessed in the early afternoon to allow last-minute negotiations, these 9 or 10 appeared ready to vote “yes” on soda — not at the two cents per oz rate proposed by the mayor, but at a compromise one cent per ounce, with the mayor kicking in about $10 million from the city’s reserve — a proposal which would have raised about $56 million according to the administration (a number disputed below).
But that majority quickly fell apart. The reasons aren’t entirely clear (or, at least, weren’t made entirely clear to this reporter). All sources point to heavy last-minute lobbying by Big Beverage and its union allies. Some sources inside City Council and within the administration cite last-minute horse trading among Council members themselves.
But another reason for the falling-apart of the soda plan appears that during discussions over the details of how to implement it, the idea of hiking real estate instead had re-emerged as a viable 9-vote alternative for the first time that day. The scales had suddenly tipped, and tipped quickly, thanks, according to several sources, to at least two less-likely votes: that of Republican Councilman Jack Kelly, who would cross party lines to vote for the bill; and that of Councilman Bill Greenlee, who admitted to City Paper that his vote had been extremely reluctant: “It took us a long time to agree to the property tax increase,” he acknowledges, saying school funding was ultimately “just too important.
Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez, meanwhile, — one of the members of Council pushing the hardest for increased funding, especially to preserve “accelerated” schools for the most at-risk students and which were threatened to be cut in the district’s revised budget — had long favored a property tax hike over other alternatives, but had reluctantly agreed to be a ninth vote on soda if it was the only way to secure school funding. Now, it was not. Within twenty or thirty minutes, Council was ready to pass a property tax hike instead.
Mayor Nutter, by all accounts, was not happy: he wanted the soda tax, and began to lobby hard, calling upon Council members whose votes the administration had counted upon — including Council members Blondell Reynolds Brown, Curtis Jones, Wilson Goode, and Maria Quinones-Sanchez — to change their minds (again) and re-secure their colleagues’ votes.
When that didn’t happen, Mayor Nutter traveled in person to City Hall’s fourth floor to make another appeal for soda inside the office of Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr., where had gathered a few Council members more favorably disposed to the mayor’s plan and who had helped lead the charge within Council to pass a tax for schools.
“It was soda, soda, soda in there” affirms Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, a staunch advocate for increased school funding and who had been a solid yes-vote on the soda proposal.
Some members of Council resented the hard lobby. For one thing, by some accounts, the mayor seemed to be lobbying for less, and not more money for schools — the soda tax would have brought in $60 million in the first year, at 2 cents per ounce, according to the administration; half of that would be $30 million, $7 million less than the projected property tax hike revenues.
Administration officials, on the other hand, hotly dispute this, citing a report suggesting a lower soda tax rate would have deterred less sales and brought in an extra $10 million. It was Council, they insist, that was arguing for the lower revenue.
Others accuse the mayor of fighting primarily for a personal, legacy win — and undermining the hard effort it took to secure 9 votes for anything. The mayor, they say, failed to credit on-the-fence Council members for being willing to raise a tax at all.
In any case, the Mayor left Jones’ office disappointed: the soda tax, he was told, was off the table.
Nutter next proceeded to the office of Council president Anna Verna where, after calling a recess in Council, Verna and about half the members of City Council had gathered. The scene inside was not, according to various sources, a very pleasant one. With soda dead, the mayor was now arguing for a 5% raise in the property take instead of the 3.5 mills proposed by Councilman Darrell Clarke. When several council members balked, the mayor was not happy.
According administration sources, Nutter’s beef wasn’t just the amount of revenue but a perceived flaw in the details of Clarke’s plan, which would have been a city, versus School District, tax (in the end, Council would amend the mayor’s property tax plan with Clarke’s rates and not vice versa). What’s more, the difference between 3.5% and a 5% hike — or something in between — was not great and might make the difference between being able to save certain school services or not.
But others say the anger was personal. Clarke and Councilman Bill Green are political rivals of the mayor. Clarke is widely expected to run for Council president against Councilwoman Marian Tasco, Nutter’s favorite. The possibility that Council would vote on Clarke’s, and not the mayor’s property tax bill was, some sources speculated, not exactly perceived as an olive branch. The animosity between Green and Nutter, meanwhile, is well-known — and a possible veto-proof majority in favor of Green’s proposal to take more from the city’s reserves had, at one point at least, loomed over discussions.
It was a classic Rashomon moment: Some sources describe Nutter as bitter about losing soda and unwilling to compromise or cajole Council members into accepting a (slightly) higher tax hike. Others describe the mayor as having done the right thing by walking up to the fourth floor, and describe Councilman Bill Green, not the mayor, as being a wet blanket during negotiations. A few sources seem to describe both at once.
After a short interval, Nutter walked out: exactly in what context isn’t clear, but unhappy — angry, say several sources.
The Eleventh Hour
Between about 5 and 8 p.m., the mayor had little communication with Council.
Instead, Council recessed for the duration, grabbed munchies, and hammered out the details of a school funding package and, around 8 P.M., presented it to Superintendent Arlene Ackerman and School Reform Commissioner Robert Archie, along with a list of “priorities,” — conditions, might be another word — for how it should be spent including transportation, maintaining class size reduction, and accelerated school funding.
School officials were “very receptive,” according to Councilwoman Reynolds Brown, and the list was circulated to Mayor Nutter at around 8 P.M — at which point several Council members, preparing to go vote, received a call, via speakerphone from the mayor, who said they’d left an $11 million hole in their plan.
The basis for the call, explains Finance Director Rob Dubow, was that Council hadn’t included in their list of priorities $11 million in various costs for city services the District had planned to transfer to the city. According to the administration’s math, the school district could not deliver on all the “promises” set out in the agreement if it had, as set forth in a memorandum of understanding between the city and the district, to add the $11 million back to its budget. The services Council wanted to keep might have to be cut.
It was another Roshomon moment: some Council members saw the call as a veiled threat or a last-minute attempt to undermine the Council’s vote. Administration officials, on the other hand, say the mayor was just doing his job — “I don’t really think he was saying, so go back and redo your bill,” explains Dubow, “I think he just wanted to make sure what they just discussed the district, that their expectations weren’t too high.”
The mayor’s warnings didn't seem to slow proceedings down: While he was still on the phone, some Council members were already trickling out of the room and into City Council chambers to vote.
As they did vote, a strange thing happened — Council was suddenly being heckled by school kids and advocates, the very constituency they were now voting to help out, as they saw it.
Several sources suggest that the cause of the sudden booing was word, circulated by administration officials, that school programs — notably, accelerated schools — would not be fully funded by the vote. Mayor spokesman Mark McDonald was not aware of any such message put out by the administration. In any case, some Council members spent time after the vote reassuring the school advocates. One advocate, contacted later, declined to comment on the episode.
Over the course of the next week, the city, Council, and the School District will have to iron out whether and how much of that $11 million needs to be replaced. Whether the mayor's late objections were punitive — or whether Council had, as it did when it passed a 9.9% and not 12.1% property tax needed to fill the budget last year — is a question of perspective.
The press quickly characterized the ultimate vote as a political defeat for the mayor. He had gone to the matt for his soda tax and, very publicly, failed to get it.
Not surprisingly, the administration has offered another take: that the highest goal of school funding was accomplished in partnership with City Council.
Some Council members have risen to defend not only their vote but the mayor’s role in the process: “He rolled up his sleeves, came to the 4th floor, met with Council members, and ultimately got [the property tax hike],”
Councilwoman Reynolds Brown. “I think that’s really worth something.”
“What we saw transpire over the past couple of weeks was a real attempt by my colleagues to give the mayor additional resources so that he can go to Harrisburg and secure more for the schools,” says Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez, adding: “This is a victory. I think [Mayor Nutter] just has to learn to claim it that way.”
To be sure, the mayor and his staff have publicly done so. Spokesman Mark McDonald emphasizes that “We’ve come a long way, and we’ve achieved raising millions of dollars for the School District.”
Are all the good feelings professed after such a heated day just spin? Maybe — but, ultimately, that depends on how Council members and the mayor chose to see it themselves going forward. The next hurdle — and it may be a high one indeed — is to secure state funding for the district, for which the city will need to present a unified front, however unified it is or isn’t. And truth, sometimes, is in the eye of the beholder.
Mayor Nutter's making a list and checking it twice ... thrice ... a fourth time ... a couple more times ... — trying, apparently, to woo one or two more votes for his proposed tax on sweetened beverages before an imminent vote by City Council today.
The vote was put off about fifteen minutes ago while Council members take a recess — another one, that is — to, apparently, negotiate what's going to happen.
According to sources, the vote has been remarkably fluid all day — it's looked like a proposed property tax hike was the favored measure by Council; then the "soda tax" seemed to be making a comeback.
Even within those choices are more options. It's possible Council would pass a smaller tax on beverages than proposed by the mayor in addition to a smaller property tax hike. It's possible Council will pass neither, and instead focus on finding a way (or leaving it to the Mayor to find a way) to provide funding to the schools some other way.
Council could also choose not to provide extra funding to the schools at all — but such a decision could have serious consequences. If the city is seen as failing to pony up for its own schools, officials in Harrisburg are even less likely to help out.
Follow me on Twitter for updates.
One of the arguments being put forth in favor of the Mayor Nutter's proposed sweetened beverage is that we already tax beverages — the ones with booze in them.
The "Liquor By the Drink" tax takes 10% of every alcoholic beverage and hands it over to the School District, generating more than $42 million last year alone, according to this fine blog post by the Daily News' Chris Brennan.
We tax alcoholic drinks, which are unnecessary to human health and well-being — so why not sugary drinks, which share that quality? It's an argument that's been making the rounds in the last couple of days, as the beverage industry, unions, and, of course, regular folks have voiced opposition to the mayor's proposed tax.
On the other hand, the liquor tax only applies to drinks consumed at restaurants and bars — not to take-out or grocery items, as doe the proposed sweetened beverage tax.
Mayor Nutter, as you've hopefully heard by now, has re-proposed a tax on sweetened beverages — the so-called "soda tax," — to raise money (somewhere between $60 and $80m annually) for the Philadelphia School District, which faces a GIGANTIC $629 million budget shortfall — a hole that undoubtedly represents an emergency for the District and Philadelphia children.
The emergency is real: but the evidence that the mayor's proposed tax will do much to solve it is less clear.
The beverage bill was introduced by the mayor as the solution to an announcement by School District superintendent Arlene Ackerman [Yes, I accidentally wrote 'Axeman' in a previous draft; that was a spell-check error, and not an intentional jibe at Dr. Ackerman] that she'd have to cut full-day kindergarten if the District couldn't get more money — like from, say, the city.
The problem is that the narrative — that this tax will pull the district from the brink of doom — isn't adding up very tidily. First, Ackerman restored kindergarten herself, overnight, without any additional funding.
But then, in budget hearins over the last two weeks, Ackerman also revealed that other serious cuts — notably a move to bring some 2,000 at-risk students in "accelerated" non-district schools into "in-house" programs — come while the District is expanding other programs, like so-called "Promise Academies," a key part of her Imagine 2014 plan for the District.
What's more, Ackerman's case for the extra funding from the city hasn't been particularly detailed: a number of about $50 million was being bandied about before the $100 million request materialized. During budget hearings, a little prodding by Council members (notably, Councilman Bill Green and Councilwoman Maria Quionones-Sanchez) revealed that a few accounting tricks solved much of the District's supposed $50 million transportation problem — a victory for the kids, but one which made some members of Council question how carefully Ackerman and her team had gone through their own budget before coming to the city for funding.
Take those doubts, add widespread criticism of Ackerman's leadership, and then add mix in a popular reception to the beverage tax that's been lukewarm at best (and, in many corners, reviled) and you don't exactly get the Beverage bonanza Nutter needs to pass this thing.
It's election time, folks!
For four weeks, the ElectionEar has brought you (increasingly hard to find) coverage of this year's primary election, in which nothing less than the future of the fair city of Philadelphia is at stake.
For a list of all candidates on the ballot, go to the Board of Elections website. For extremely helpful voting information (including polling places and a list of who you'll get to vote for) visit the Committee of Seventy.
And for fun, exciting, amazing City Paper coverage, read this week's cover story by Holly Otterbein and Isaiah Thompson — and don't forget the special edition of ElectionEar, which looks at the battles behind the battles.
And now: Dozens of candiates are running for a slew of offices — Mayor, City Council, Sheriff, City Commissioner, Register of Wills, and city and state and judicial races.
But who are these candidates? And why should you vote for them?
To find out, read the candidates' responses to ElectionEar's 2011 Ultimate Primary Candidate Questionnaire below. You'll find out their thoughts on everything from the city's biggest weakness to the Philadelphia School District — and even whether or not they can spell.
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