1) Ensuring Philadelphia has a well-prepared, well-educated workforce is important to business in our city. What is your plan to ensure Philadelphia has a well-educated workforce capable of filling the employment needs of business?
The son of a former Philadelphia public school teacher, I am running for Mayor to build a One Philadelphia vision for education - a city in which every family can access a quality education that prepares students from cradle to career, from child care to college. However, state government is not meeting its constitutional obligation to provide for a “thorough and efficient” system of public schools in Philadelphia. Without full and weighted funding from the state, the School District will remain in crisis. As Mayor, my vision is a fully funded public school system that centers on the child and parents, focuses on educational quality and outcomes, and values public school teachers as professionals and public servants.
As Mayor, I’ll have limited control of Philadelphia’s public schools, but I’ll use the full power of my office to achieve this vision.
A Fully Funded Public School System
As Mayor, I’ll secure a weighted, full funding formula from the state that takes into account Philadelphia’s poverty rate, as well as public charter school reimbursement, to provide financial stability for the School District and end the tension between neighborhood schools and public charter schools. With full funding, the School District can hire back counselors, nurses, more teachers, and implement programs that support academic excellence for every child.
We also have to move towards a more balanced partnership between the state and the city. In addition to a weighted funding formula and public charter school reimbursement, we’ll need to increase local revenue. As Mayor, I’ll work to aggressively collect delinquent property taxes, and free up dollars by shoring up the city's underfunded pension system and reducing recidivism.
Improve child care quality and affordability for working families
Early learning is the best investment a city can make in its youngest citizens, but less than 15 percent of infants and toddlers in Philadelphia receive a quality day care experience that prepares them for kindergarten. Expanding quality and affordable neighborhood-based child care facilities and pre-K will reduce poverty, make communities across Philadelphia attractive places for families to stay and grow, and ensure that children are prepared to learn. As Mayor, I will support a dollar-for-dollar wage tax credit to families who send their children to certified day care centers. It is estimated that a family earning $27,000 a year will save nearly $700 in wage taxes each year.
To improve the quality of day care in Philadelphia, I will direct the Department of Licenses and Inspections and the Department of Public Health to annually inspect day care facilities that are not certified by the state, and move them towards certification.
Implement Early College Programs
We can significantly increase educational attainment rates by implementing early college programs in public high schools to provide graduates with the skills and credentials needed for the global economy. These programs extend high school in partnership with community colleges, and four-year colleges and universities so graduates receive a high school diploma as well as two years of college credits, an industry-recognized credential, or an associate’s degree at no cost to families. Research has shown that early college programs increase graduation rates and educational attainment rates, which will reduce poverty, crime, and increase economic prosperity.
Expand Mayor’s Commission on Literacy
Over 550,000 adults in Philadelphia are low-literate, and unable to fully participate in the local economy. As Mayor, I will pursue a “two-generation” approach for children and their parents, and expand the Mayor’s Commission on Literacy’s myPLACE initiative, which is the nation’s first online, cohort-based class for reading, writing, and math for low-literate adults. Improving the reading, writing, and math proficiency of this population will significantly improve Philadelphia’s workforce, and prepare more residents for higher wage jobs.
2) In his most recent budget, Mayor Michael Nutter proposed a 9% property tax increase to help bridge the funding gap for the city’s schools. How do you feel about asking property owners in the city to pick up the costs?
I am opposed to increasing property taxes to bridge the schools funding gap. Since 2009, the City increased local schools funding by almost $400M through property and sales tax increases. Several weeks ago, I was the first mayoral candidate to lay out a $200M schools funding plan that called for reinstating state public charter reimbursement funding, increasing the allocation of property tax revenue that goes to schools, and raising private philanthropic donations all without raising taxes.
3) The real estate tax abatement can help the city grow, but it also provides a tax break at a time when the city needs every dollar. Do you favor the current tax abatement plan and what changes, if any, would you make to it as it stands now.
The tax abatement has been an overwhelming success. Construction is up 417% since its creation. Fundamentally, abatements subsidize developers. They compensate builders because our construction costs are simply too high. I'm in favor of the current tax abatement plan, otherwise residential and commercial development would be stagnant. A comprehensive review of the 10 Year Tax Abatement is necessary to figure out how to drive the development and increase property values across all neighborhoods. In areas where property taxes increase significantly, we will ensure that homeowners enroll in tax relief, assistance and education programs to ensure they are not forced out of their homes and neighborhoods.
4) Crime is always a hot topic in Philadelphia. What do you think should be the first priority of the new mayor when it comes to reducing crime in the city?
As Mayor, I will direct the Police Commissioner to work with the District Attorney, city agencies and community groups to end stop and frisk, and expand “Focused Deterrence” to each of the City’s 6 police divisions. I will create a Director of Gun Violence Reduction in the Mayor’s Office to coordinate and implement the strategy to use technology like body cameras, and community policing best practices to reduce gun crimes. The Director will have the authority and resources to coordinate multiple agencies and ensure that this strategy is executed and sustained in accordance with best practices.
There is a need for more meaningful collaboration across city government and community policing to improve the quality of life and reduce violent crimes in Philadelphia. For example, the Police Department’s Focused Deterrence effort in South Philadelphia was shown to reduce violent crimes significantly by partnering with the community, and across city, state and federal agencies to give persistent criminals an opportunity to change their direction, or face serious consequences. These collaborative efforts must be prioritized, expanded, and elevated by the next mayor because violent crime is not widespread throughout the city, but instead is concentrated in certain neighborhoods with high poverty rates. In FY 2013, the 14th, 15th, 19th, 22nd, 24th, 25th, and 35th Police Districts, which comprise North and West Philadelphia, accounted for nearly 60 percent of all violent crimes in the City.
5) The failed sale of PGW was a setback for the current administration. As we look forward to the years ahead, would you make another attempt to sell PGW and what steps would you take to earn enough support to make sure the sale is successful.
There are other ways to leverage PGW, and other municipal assets, without privatization. Long-term leases and public-private partnerships are avenues by which to strengthen the asset, shore up our pension fund, and attract private investment. I have two decades of experience as a state legislator and I am a leader in Harrisburg. Most recently, I worked with a conservative Republican-led House and Senate and Republican governor to pass tax increases for Philadelphia public education funding. I would welcome the opportunity to partner with City Council on any issue facing the City, and I have the track record and the skillset to do it.
6) There’s been a lot of debate at City Hall about creating an energy hub in Philadelphia to attract manufacturing to the city and create jobs. What are your thoughts on the city as an energy hub?
While we’ve long paid attention to our “eds and meds” for job creation, we should turn our eyes to Philadelphia’s future as an energy hub to create well-paying jobs for Philadelphians across all skill levels. Production of natural gas in Pennsylvania has more than doubled since 2011, solidifying Philadelphia’s opportunity to be the region’s leader in its entire industrial supply chain. This includes the delivery and export of natural gas, growing new markets like natural gas vehicle fueling, and strengthening our manufacturing base through the conversion of natural gas to higher value products. We can revolutionize Philadelphia’s economy for the future, by returning to our legacy as the Workshop of the World.
Transporting the finished products such as liquefied natural gas (LNG) naturally pivots to our port. As the nation’s 5th largest city with the 28th ranked port, we have opportunities for significant market gain.
Developing properties in South Port and South Port-West provide a blank canvas and ripe opportunity for this strategic growth.
As Mayor, I will work with PGW to diversify its natural gas portfolio to safely secure more natural gas from Pennsylvania. I also support the pursuit of public-private partnerships that expands PGW’s ability to export LNG to emerging markets. Under a Williams Administration, PGW needs to play a vital role in the city’s economic development strategy by reducing energy costs for businesses seeking to expand or relocate to Philadelphia. Developing a strategy to use Combined Heat Power (CHP) installations across the City will leverage its economic and environmental benefits to attract new businesses and create more jobs for Philadelphians.
7) What neighborhood commercial corridors would you most like to see strengthened – and how would you strengthen them?
My One Philadelphia vision ensures that every neighborhood has a thriving commercial corridor. Specifically, commercial corridors located near major transit hubs are ripe with economic opportunity, corridors like 52nd St, 5th St, and Germantown and Erie Avenues to name a few. Unfortunately, the City only funds commercial corridors with federal Community Development Block Grant dollars, which have significant restrictions in gentrifying neighborhoods. The City will need to invest additional general fund dollars to join federal and state funds to drive economic growth in our commercial corridors. Implementing my weekly street cleaning plan would free up new City revenues so the Commerce Department no longer has the responsibility of cleaning commercial corridors.
8) We know government has limited spending capacity—are there certain city departments in which you envision investing more resources? Are there agencies where you envision spending less resources?
My Administration will re-balance city government towards providing a better quality of life to residents through a data-driven approach to providing municipal services that achieve stated outcomes, and commit to reducing the significant costs of incarceration and recidivism. Philadelphia’s consolidated city/county structure means that city revenues also support traditional county-level expenditures like prisons, and the judicial system. Municipal functions like trash collection, Licenses and Inspections, and parks and recreation compete against these expenditures. Since 1960, those county-level expenditures increased over 133 percent, while municipal-level functions decreased by nearly 25 percent over the same period of time.
Evaluating the effectiveness of city government programs and services should be a basic rule of municipal management. City government has an obligation to invest in and expand policies and programs that are proven to work, and re-direct funding away from policies and programs that do not. Thanks to City Council, performance-based budgeting is now the law of the land in Philadelphia but it has not been fully implemented. As Mayor, I will direct my Budget Director to fully implement this law, and build upon performance management initiatives like PhillyStat to bring transparency and accountability to service delivery. I am committed to a data-driven performance culture in city government that is focused on delivering a better quality of life for all Philadelphians.
9) The city has taken steps in the past 8 years to become more green. What would you do to keep Philadelphia heading in this direction.
As Mayor, I will commit to continuing the Philadelphia Water Department’s Green City, Clean Waters initiative, and I support and will expand upon the goals of Greenworks Philadelphia. I will expand funding for the Office of Sustainability, and work with the Director of Sustainability to re-define Greenworks Philadelphia’s benchmarks out to 2023. I will use the new benchmarks to establish a common vision across city government creating a culture of sustainability. I will also advocate for the inclusion of appropriate sustainability practices into the city’s planning and development of our neighborhoods. Such a vision will attract buy-in from department heads to partner with the Director of Sustainability to achieve their own goals, rather than comply with dictates from another office. This will send a strong message to citizens, advocates, and the business community that Philadelphia is serious, and looking towards the future.
10) Every mayor needs to make tough decisions. How will you handle implementing unpopular policies (i.e., cuts in some city services in order to fund other ones; tax increases)
The job of the Mayor is to balance competing interests to improve the quality of life for all Philadelphians. Making tough decisions to raise taxes, cut services or both is something a Mayor cannot do alone. Building a coalition requires a deep commitment to community engagement, and relationship-building with City Councilmembers and advocacy organizations. It requires being transparent, and educating the public on why these decisions need to be made and what the tradeoffs would be. The Mayor cannot be on an island by himself or herself. To be successful in the role of Mayor requires collaboration and partnership, and my vision of creating One Philadelphia would do just that, by creating opportunities for us to work together to move Philadelphia forward.