MAYOR’S PROPOSED TAX CUTS, HEALTH DEPARTMENT’S RESPONSE TO COVID-19, HIGHLIGHT FIRST WEEK OF COUNCIL FY2022 BUDGET HEARINGS
Proposed tax cuts for suburban commuters and city businesses, the city’s vaccine response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and equity hiring plans across city government were some of the issues driving debate in City Council this week as hearings got underway on the mayor’s proposed FY2022 city budget.
On Monday, the first day of a budget process, Council President Darrell L. Clarke (5th District), signaled where he expects discussion may go on the mayor’s proposed reductions in the wage tax for suburban commuters (as well as city residents) and the Business Income & Receipts Tax.
Finance Director Rob Dubow testified that the city expects approximately 15 percent of suburban workers who’ve worked remotely for the last year of the pandemic will never return to office buildings downtown. “Why do we want to give a tax cut to suburban workers who don’t want to be here?” Clarke wondered aloud during the virtual hearing.
As Monday’s first day of hearings continued, Clarke’s sentiments were echoed by Councilmembers Helen Gym, Kendra Brooks (At Large), and Jamie Gauthier (Third District). On Tuesday, when the tax revenue bills were listed for testimony, other Council members spoke in support of an emerging Council sentiment against those tax cuts, including Derek Green (At Large) and Majority Leader Cherelle Parker (9th District).
“Why would we reward this group (suburban commuters) by lowering their wage tax rates?” Councilmember Parker said at Tuesday’s hearing. “They don’t live in the city of Philadelphia, and now some of them won’t even be returning to Philadelphia to work. Why wouldn’t we be focused on some of the Philadelphians who live and work here?”
Dubow said the administration based on its tax reduction plan on the need for Philadelphia to be competitive economically with its suburban and regional neighbors. Councilmember Allan Domb (At Large), meanwhile, who has proposed wage and business tax reductions that are larger than the mayor’s, said he doesn’t believe the mayor’s tax cuts go far enough.
Domb pointed out that President Biden’s American Rescue Plan will direct $1.4 Billion in federal stimulus funding to Philadelphia over the next two years. “We will never see funding like this or a moment like this again in my lifetime,” Domb said. “We need to think and act boldly to help Philadelphia emerge from this pandemic significantly stronger than it was before.”
CITY’S VACCINE RESPONSE DRAWS COUNCIL SCRUTINY
On Wednesday, the third day of budget hearings, how city health officials have responded so far to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly regarding the rate of vaccinating Philadelphians, was a hot topic of debate.
With Philadelphia hovering around 30 percent in terms of fully vaccinated city residents, and 44 percent of residents partially vaccinated, Councilmembers grilled Health Commissioner, Dr. Tom Farley, the city’s plan to reach a 70 percent partial vaccination rate by July 4, 2021 – the national target set this week by President Biden.
Farley indicated the city was moving into a new phase of vaccine distribution, where supply exceeds demand, and that the Health Department was focused on supporting more frequent vaccination events in neighborhoods, where residents live, and less so at large, downtown sites like the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Farley said there are now more than 200 sites in Philadelphia offering vaccinations.
Councilmembers urged Dr. Farley to set an exact date by which Philadelphia would officially “re-open” its economy, an action the health commissioner was reluctant to endorse. He noted that the re-openings touted by neighboring New Jersey and New York were actually quite similar to the regulations already in place in Philadelphia.
COUNCILMEMBER JOHNSON INTRODUCES LEGISLATION TO IMPROVE WAGES, BENEFITS FOR CONTRACTED AIRPORT WORKERS
Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District) introduced legislation Thursday that would ensure that contracted workers at Philadelphia International Airport receive family-sustaining wages, affordable healthcare and paid sick leave.
The PHL Prevailing Wage bill would provide specific classification of PHL workers to receive up to $15.06 per hour, an additional $4.54 hourly wage supplement to obtain health insurance, and up to 56 hours of paid sick leave annually.
“The rights of workers need to be respected in Philadelphia and I stand in support of the unions at Philadelphia International Airport,” said Johnson, whose district includes the Airport. “My colleagues in Council have previously passed legislation ensuring that Airport workers make a living wage. The PHL Prevailing Wage bill will ensure they have meaningful access to health benefits. The workers who make the Airport one of the biggest and most profitable airports in the country shouldn’t have to worry that they could be bankrupted at any time by an illness or injury.”
The bill would cover baggage and freight handlers and inspectors, cabin cleaners, passenger service agents, skycaps, wheelchair attendants, retail, food and beverage service workers, food preparation workers and other airport service workers employed by an airline operating under a lease with the City, or by a contractor for such airlines.
The bill has 13 co-sponsors in Council, and is also supported by SEIU 32BJ and UNITE HERE, which represents thousands of Airport workers.
If approved by Council and signed into law by the mayor, the PHL Prevailing Wage bill would:
- Raise airport workers’ wages: The bill would establish a prevailing wage for service workers at the Airport, setting the rate for those workers to the prevailing wage rate for unarmed security officers in Philadelphia, currently $15.06 per hour. Contracted airport workers covered by 32BJ’s collective bargaining agreement currently earn a minimum of $13.60 per hour; airport workers employed by non-union contractors have a minimum wage of about $12.40 per hour.
- Create health insurance standard for airport contractors: Airport workers would receive an additional hourly wage supplement to allow them to obtain health insurance. The health supplement would be equivalent to the health benefit standard required under the federal Service Contract Act, currently $4.54 per hour.
- Create paid leave standard: Covered workers would receive a minimum of 10 paid holidays per year, a minimum paid vacation schedule of 2 weeks after 1 year of service, 3 weeks after 8 years of service, 4 weeks after 15 years, and up to 56 hours of paid sick leave annually.
COUNCILMEMBERS QUESTION COMMERCE DEPARTMENT ON STRATEGIES TO PROMOTE MINORITY BUSINESS GROWTH
The pandemic and social unrest that have gripped Philadelphia as well as the nation over the past year have led many Councilmembers to sharpen their research and scrutiny of how Philadelphia government operates and does business in terms of its diversity hiring goals and its outreach to help Black and brown businesses grow.
On Tuesday, Councilmember Green and other members asked multiple questions of the city’s new Commerce Director, Michael Rashid, particularly around whether the department was investing enough resources and strategic thinking into promoting the growth of black-owned businesses. In a city in which more than 40 percent of residents are Black, Philadelphia’s business total includes approximately 5 percent of businesses that are Black-owned.
SEEN ON SOCIAL MEDIA…
— Darrell Clarke (@Darrell_Clarke) May 5, 2021
IN OTHER NEWS…
Councilmember Oh to hold hearing Friday on re-opening Philadelphia’s creative economy. The Committee on Global Opportunities and the Creative Innovative Economy will on Friday host 30 witnesses from Philadelphia’s creative economy to explore solutions for accelerating the industry’s reopening and recovery. Prior to the pandemic, Philadelphia’s creative economy generated over $900 million in household income, $157 million in tax revenue, and 37,000 jobs. Today, the industry is reeling from a year of public health restrictions, closures, and budget cuts.
Councilmember David Oh (At Large) is chairing the hearing, under Resolution No. 200339, to receive input from industry stakeholders on how best to reopen the economy, and to better understand what funding will be required to sustain the industry’s recovery.
The hearing will feature representatives from the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra, the Pennsylvania Ballet, World Café Live, Chris’ Jazz Café, Milkboy Philadelphia, Local 77 Musicians Union, Philadelphia Fashion Week, and Council’s Task Force on Arts and Culture.
Councilmember Johnson Introduces Resolution Supporting a “Philly Truce” App to Deter Gun Violence. Councilmember Johnson offered a resolution supporting a new app, Philly Truce, intended to deter and reduce the relentless wave of gun violence in Philadelphia.
Several creators and supporters of the Philly Truce app testified during the public comment portion of Council on Thursday, saying the mobile technology would enable people to communicate with trained violence prevention mediators before a violent incident occurs, and lead to mediation intended to prevent the violent act from occurring.
Philadelphia experienced 499 homicides last year – nearly a record-high, and over 2,400 shootings. This year’s pace threatens to eclipse last year’s, and the city could potentially see 600 homicides in 2021. Many cities across the United States have experienced a rise in homicides and shootings since the pandemic struck the country.
OTHER SIGHTS AND SOUNDS FROM THE COUNCIL WEEK
PHILADELPHIA FACTS AND FIGURES
The next Stated Meeting of City Council is scheduled to take place on Thursday, May 13, 2021 at 10 a.m. The Meeting will be held remotely due to the ongoing pandemic, and will air on Xfinity Ch. 64, Fios Channel 40 and stream at www.PHLCouncil.com/watch.