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GIORDANO: Next Mayor’s Race Is An Inflection Point for Philly

I hosted six Democrats and one Republican running for Philadelphia mayor on Talk Radio 1210 last week. A listener from Delaware County tweeted at me, “Totally awesome format! I am not a resident of Philadelphia, but I live in DELCO, so what happens there affects me.”

Public safety was the key issue that I raised with the candidates. If you live in the suburbs but work or play in Philadelphia, you want to feel safe when you visit the city. Under the current administration and District Attorney Larry Krasner, no sane person feels safe.

Maybe, more importantly, the lawlessness in Philadelphia is bleeding into the suburbs. Abington Police Chief Pat Molloy is often on my show. He tells me that since the Philadelphia City Council, supported by Mayor Jim Kenney, passed the Driving Equality bill, Abington officers are making many more car stops for vehicles with no registration and often with illegal guns and drugs.

The premise of the bill is that cops can’t be expected to stop people of color for motor vehicle violations relatively. Therefore, for a significant number of violations, they are to write down the license plate information and send a ticket in the mail. A mayor concerned with public safety would veto a bill like this.

A Philadelphia mayor concerned with public safety would also remove Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw from her position.

Outlaw was hired because Kenney promised to put a Black woman in that position. I don’t see any clear plan from Outlaw to turn things around, and according to several sources, the morale in the police department is very low.

Only Democratic candidates Derek Green and Jeff Brown said they would remove Outlaw, and Republican David Oh would replace her with a former or current member of the Philadelphia Police Department. Allan Domb told me he believes Kenney tied Outlaw’s hands. On a very positive note, a candidate said to me off the record that former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsay would be in charge of public safety if that candidate were elected. That would be a tremendous development.

My biggest disappointment was that the candidates did not seem energized by my argument that Philadelphia needs at least a thousand more cops, and the current police salaries are not moving the needle. I argued that we need to increase wages a great deal more but also need to develop a campaign using athletes, celebs, influencers, etc., to say that being a cop is a great, noble profession.

This problem of recruiting cops is not just confined to Philadelphia. David Kennedy, president of the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association, wrote in the Pittsburg Tribune that when he applied to be a state trooper in 1995, he had to compete for the position with 10,000 applicants. Last year he reported that last year the Pennsylvania State Police had only 1,000 applicants.

I don’t recall any widespread issues with the state police, but it indicates progressive critics’ tarnishing of the profession. This trend cannot continue without putting every citizen at risk.

I’m still hopeful that even though I say deficiencies in the candidates, every one of them would protect Philadelphia better than Jim Kenney. The candidates in descending order that I trust the most to get a handle on crime are David Oh, Allan Domb, Cherelle Parker, and Amen Brown.

Former Councilperson Helen Gym declined to respond to our invitation. If she is elected mayor, Philadelphia will become more lawless and violent. The phrase “inflection point” is often overused, but this mayor’s race result is clearly an inflection point.

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Philadelphia Lowers Commuter Wage Taxes Slightly, Increases Police Budget

Philadelphians and suburbanites are getting a taste of tax relief after Philadelphia passed a $5.8 billion spending plan last week that went into effect July 1.

The deal, hailed by Councilman Allan Domb as “truly monumental,” is about $500 million more than last year’s spending plan, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

It includes $30 million in additional allocations for the police department as part of Mayor Jim Kenney’s push to get the city’s record crime surge under control.”

The budget also contains modest tax relief for nearly 1.6 million city residents and thousands of others who commute to Philadelphia for work.

Lawmakers cut city wage and business taxes by small margins. The wage tax, a controversial issue among residents and commuters alike, dropped from 3.83 percent to 3.79 percent for city residents and from 3.448 percent to 3.44 percent for people working in Philadelphia but living outside city limits, officials confirmed.

The business income and receipts tax was also lowered modestly, from 6.2 percent to 5.99 percent, which Domb said is the first time since 1988 that figure is under 6 percent.

Domb, who pushed forward a bill last year that would have reduced the city wage tax by 2 percent over 15 years, played a key role in negotiations that led to the reductions. He said the city must consider the interests of commuters who make up about 40 percent of the city’s working base.

“The government is recognizing how important suburbanites are to the economy of Philadelphia. Suburbs don’t exist without the ‘urb,’” Domb told DVJournal. “We have to be strong so the suburbs are strong. When we’re strong, the suburbs are strong. And when the suburbs are strong, it helps the city.”

The wage tax reduction means residents making between $50,000 to $100,000 a year will see between roughly $25 to $50 more in take-home pay this year, according to Axios and city officials.

Savings for non-residents amounts to even less, at about $4 annually for those making $50,000.

The wage tax is the city’s biggest revenue generator, at about $2 billion for the last fiscal year, officials said. About $700 million of that amount comes from people like Daniel Ceisler, an attorney at Saltz, Mongeluzzi & Bendesky in Philadelphia’s downtown district who commutes from Bristol Township.

Ceisler is one of the few people who doesn’t really gripe about the city wage tax, which reduces his paychecks by about $100.

Commuters effectively are being double-billed by the city and their own municipalities, Ceisler said. There are also people who live in the city but work in places like New York, with its own separate wage tax, meaning those people shell out for both.

Philadelphia’s website lays out scenarios when nonresidents are exempt from paying the wage tax if employers require them to “perform a job” outside of Philadelphia.

Those living outside the city but voluntarily working from home are not immune from the tax.

However insignificant to his bottom line, Ceisler said the reduction was “better than nothing,” especially if it makes Philadelphia safer.

“I don’t want anyone to think that I’m the only one in the world who loves paying taxes, but the city needs it now more than ever,” Ceisler said. “I see a city that’s struggling in a lot of ways.”

Like many who live or work in the city, he said a historic crime wave that hit the city during the pandemic has made him and others feel less at ease walking the streets.

“The shift you’re seeing (is) more crime and more brazen crime, particularly in areas where you didn’t use to see it,” Ceisler said. “There’s no part of the city that’s immune to violent crime.”

Under this year’s spending plan, the police department saw its annual budget boosted by about $30 million, to about $800 million, a figure the Inquirer reported is the most of any city agency.

The increase comes two years after the police budget was frozen following widespread civil unrest and protests that broke out across the country over police brutality following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Since then, the city has invested more than $150 million into anti-violence programs.

Kenney proposed about $23 million more for police to cover union-based salary increases and upgrades for office technology. The city council added another $6.2  million on top of that, according to The Inquirer.

About $5 million was set aside for the city’s forensic lab and $250,000 for recruitment amid a nationwide shortage of police recruits.

The money is needed as not every one of the city’s 6,300 sworn officers is equipped with a cell phone, a potential public safety hazard, Domb said.

“That’s pretty basic,” said Domb, who is exploring running for mayor with the Democratic primary less than a year away. “No one will argue that the No. 1 issue in the city is public safety. I am heartbroken over what’s going on. I know we can do better.”

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