10 Questions for Philadelphia Mayoral Candidate Doug Oliver

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?

Currently, with an unemployment rate of almost 7%, there are almost 100,000 people living in Philadelphia without jobs. Only the nimble and pro-active attitudes of American businesses can solve this problem, not government.  However, government can play a role in creating an environment for businesses to flourish - creating jobs that are so needed in this City.  Ultimately, private companies are best suited to creating the stable, life-sustaining and family-supporting jobs Philadelphians need and want. The role that the City must play is providing the necessary training to Philadelphians and economic incentives to businesses to create jobs for Philadelphians. Training our workforce is an essential element to ensuring that Philadelphia citizens can secure available jobs even if the jobs are more technical in nature. The City can no longer afford for newly created jobs to be given to out of City employees because our workforce is not appropriately skilled. 

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?

Funding the shortfall for City schools requires a multifaceted approach. As Mayor, I will consider all options for increasing funding for our Philadelphia schools including modifying the tax abatement program, increasing property taxes, looking to collect the City’s delinquent taxes, and possibly selling City assets that would alleviate some of the City’s pension challenges and in turn free up more funding for schools.  I will give preference to those options that do not require the sale of a City asset or increasing taxes for our working families. 

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.

When we tax abate properties, we steal from the City’s revenue base.  We have forgone $80 million over the last ten years in property taxes, of which $44.2 million would have gone directly to the School District and $36 million to general budget.  These funds could certainly have aided our failing schools and bolstered our poor City services.

The tax abatement in its current form is being overused.  The purpose was to encourage development, however, now that the development has occurred, a reevaluation is appropriate.  Developers would likely be willing to pay to be in certain neighborhoods even without receiving the benefit of a tax abatement. We can now test the theory without hurting the City.  We want to encourage development, but not at the expense of the City tax base.

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?

When it comes to reducing crime in the City, my first priority as Mayor will be to develop a comprehensive strategy to address crime and safety in Philadelphia and secure the buy in of the relevant stakeholders.  I believe the strategy should include:
•    Ongoing situational training that prepares our officers for what they may encounter while on the streets and that provides our officers with the sensitivity tools they need to interact in a respectful and fair manner.
•    A community engagement and support board to deliver actionable feedback to police leadership and gather info on how that feedback is utilized.
•    A common understanding among the police that small crime should be treated like it is the precursor to big crime.
•    Proper funding to provide the police with the tools they need to serve communities.

Although the City touts the fact that the murder rate is the lowest it has been since 1967, it doesn’t negate the fact that we still have a serious problem in Philadelphia. 248 murders in 2014 is too many. One murder is too many. We have made progress, but we must continue to improve.

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?

I am not in favor of privatizing City services and taking jobs away from Philadelphians.  I do believe, however, that there are certain situations that necessitate the privatization of City assets. I was a supporter of the sale of PGW as a means to hasten investment in PGW’s infrastructure, provide relief for the pension fund, and establish Philadelphia as an energy hub.

I am a firm believer that good communication and consensus building is the best way to get things done in City government.  I have relationships with the majority of the councilmembers and would leverage these relationships to initiate dialogue, discuss challenges and work through differences to ensure that decisions were made that were in the best interest of the City. 

If another opportunity presented itself to sell PGW, it would be important to:
•    Conduct public hearings to give the public an opportunity to hear all sides of the debate.
•    Require that City Council, as a legislative body, make their decision publicly in the form of a yes/no vote, as they would in almost any other scenario in order to create a record of how each member voted.  This information is important for election cycles when council members are held accountable for their record – regardless of how they may have chosen to vote.

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?

Philadelphia is in a unique position to establish itself as an energy hub. Leveraging the opportunity that Marcellus Shale represents as well as the many positive characteristics of the City – deep water access, rail lines, a large workforce, and proximity to a large portion of the nation’s population – Philadelphia can position itself as a prime location for new or expanding energy companies. 

7)    What neighborhood commercial corridors would you most like to see strengthened – and how would you strengthen them?

There are currently 250 commercial corridors in Philadelphia; only 19 of these commercial corridors are receiving funding.  To avoid scattershot or "one-off" development deals that don't fully maximize the benefit of existing and planned investments, we would seek to work with PACDC, NACs and RCOs to create a 5 or 10-year strategic plan for commercial corridor investments.
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?

City government needs to spend smart.  Currently, City departments operate off of independent budgets although crossover for services exists between departments.  There needs to be a coordinated approach among City agencies to leverage budgets and combine efforts to provide services and improve outcomes.

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?

Philadelphia has made great strides recently to become a more sustainable City.  The progress that has been made must be built upon.  As the former Senior Vice President of Marketing and Corporate Communications at PGW, I was tasked with reducing the City’s energy consumption and carbon footprint.  This experience has heightened my awareness of the issues and my commitment to addressing the issue.  As Mayor, I will certainly do my part to ensure that Philadelphia is a livable City and sustainable in its use of energy. 

When we think about sustainability, we often think ‘green’, planting trees and reducing carbon footprints.  However, sustainability also means positioning the City for long-term sustainable growth. As Mayor I would do the following to make Philadelphia a more sustainable city.
•    Convert the City property that use oil and steam to natural gas.
•    Analyze energy usage in older building to ensure they are as efficient as possible.
•    Identify cleaner, greener, abundant, locally sourced energy sources. 
•    Begin converting the city fleet from gasoline to natural gas in order to save money, and reduce the carbon footprint.
•    Consider the conversion of SEPTA from diesel to natural gas or low sulfur diesel.

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)?

Given my background in public relations, I recognize how important effective communication is (sharing information as well as listening).  I firmly believe that good communication will aid me, as Mayor, in pushing through tough decisions and ensuring that stakeholders as well as the public understand the reasoning behind decisions and that unpopular decisions need to be made in order for the City to advance.

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