PHILADELPHIA— January 21, 2016 – Today in her first official action, Councilwoman Helen Gym (At Large) introduced two pieces of legislation aimed at ensuring fairness in the local economy, promoting government and corporate transparency, and pursuing a restoration agenda for public schools. First, a “Subsidy Accountability” bill will amend the City Code to insure that public resources for economic development are being used to create good jobs. Second, a resolution calls for hearings concerning “Safety and Essential Services in Philadelphia Public Schools,” in order to examine conditions on the ground that pose a risk to students and staff.
The Subsidy Accountability Bill, co-sponsored by Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. (4th District), Councilwoman Cherelle Parker (9th District.), Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez (7th District), and Councilman Kenyatta Johnson (2nd Disttrict), would require, for the first time, “open data” reporting for private businesses that receive tax subsidies. This is of crucial importance: a report from the City Controller and investigative reporting from PlanPhilly and other outlets have shown that with only one tax subsidy alone – the Keystone Opportunity Zone – businesses have received over $380 million in tax breaks since 1999 with little to no tracking of outcomes or jobs created. Moreover, the primary recommendation of the 2013 Philadelphia Jobs Commission was for the city to use annual reporting to better assess job creation as a product of economic development strategies. In keeping with national best practices recommended by the nonprofit organization Good Jobs First, Councilwoman Gym’s bill would require the City to annually disclose key information about companies receiving valuable tax subsidies from the public, including the total dollar value of all subsidies received, and information about the number and quality of jobs created or sustained.
“Every year, businesses are granted tax breaks from the City of Philadelphia but we have no way to evaluate the return on investment,” said Councilwoman Gym. “This legislation will help us target our limited resources toward businesses that are using these subsidies to grow the local economy and increase good jobs. These annual reports will help us champion businesses that deliver on their promises.”
“I am pleased to co-sponsor Councilwoman Gym’s legislation,” said Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr., Chair of the Committee on Commerce and Economic Development, “To effectively manage government’s investment, the rate of return should include human capital. The measurement and bottom line of any investment should include a neighborhood impact of employment. This bill will help Philadelphia better manage its investment.”
“As a taxpayer in this city, I want to know what tax breaks and subsidies Philadelphia is giving out and what we’re getting in return,” said ACTION United leader Kia Hinton. “Are we getting good paying jobs and how many? Are city residents getting those jobs, or are they going to non-residents? We need this level of transparency in our government which often doesn’t have the resources to meet basic community service needs.”
“Growing and sustaining good jobs is key to economic development policies that work for working families. Taxpayers and policy makers need accurate and detailed information on whether or not subsidies are actually paying off. If passed, this legislation will undoubtedly serve a model for economic development accountability in communities across Pennsylvania,” said Mark Price, labor economist at the Keystone Research Center.
The Resolution on Safety and Essential Services in Philadelphia Public Schools, introduced with Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell (3rd District) and co-sponsored by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown (At Large), Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, Councilman Bobby Henon (6th District), Councilman Derek Green (At Large), Councilman Mark Squilla (1st District), and Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, will enable the newly-created Committee on Children and Youth to partner with the Committee on Education to conduct a series of public hearings that will examine the impact of five years of devastating school funding cuts on school safety and services to students.
The hearings will place special emphasis on the state of services for the most vulnerable students, including students with special needs and English language learners, along with system-involved youth: young people who are especially reliant on school-based services.
“While it is well known that years of state budget cuts have ravaged Philadelphia’s public schools, we have a responsibility to hear from those most impacted at this pivotal moment with a pending state budget and a school funding lawsuit before the state Supreme Court,” said Councilwoman Gym. “These hearings will help us identify our schools’ most pressing needs and develop a vision for how we invest in the future.”
“After years of starving schools of necessary resources there must be major changes to the way we not only fund schools but also to how we hold systems accountable for their failure to provide our city’s children with opportunities for a quality education,” added parent Kendra Brooks, a leader with Parents United for Public Education, which filed hundreds of complaints regarding curriculum deficiencies with the State Department of Education.
I look forward to working with Councilwoman Gym on this issue and many others as we go forward,” said Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, Chair of the Committee on Education. “I commend her for her insight and her commitment to the children of Philadelphia and its citizens.”
Councilwoman Gym added “Philadelphia has finite resources. Both bills will help us to learn more and invest smarter.”
Elected in 2015, Councilwoman Helen Gym is a community and education leader whose priority is to address widespread poverty in Philadelphia, particularly through building a quality public education system that anchors schools within communities. She will continue to push for fairer and more responsible taxation, sustainable investments in neighborhoods, language access, civil rights, and a focus on the long-term health and safety of Philadelphia residents.
Helen Gym was sworn in for her first term as a Philadelphia Councilmember-At -Large in January 2016. Her primary concerns include addressing widespread poverty in Philadelphia, particularly through an emphasis on building a quality public education system that anchors schools within communities. For more information, visit phlcouncil.com/HelenGym