10 Questions for Philadelphia Mayoral Candidate Jim Kenney

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?

Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses in Philadelphia high schools are our best tool for matching employer demands with a skilled workforce. As Mayor, I will work with the School District to ensure that CTE programming is expanded to more and more high schools. These classes provide real world skills, and provide incentives for students to want to come to school and learn – and graduate. The City’s all CTE schools had a 20% higher graduation rate in 2013, and a study from Johns Hopkins University found that CTE students generally were far more likely to graduate on time compared to the rest of School District students.

Philadelphia also must do everything it can to ensure that children in high school who wish to attend college are given the support and resources they need to make that happen. The City’s greatest asset in this regard is the Community College of Philadelphia. The School District and Community College should be working in tandem to provide post-secondary education options to students. As Mayor, I will look to expand Community College’s Dual Enrollment program where current high school students can take additional classes for degree credit. This program also includes students who have yet to attain a high school diploma, and allows them to achieve a GED and college credit simultaneously, cutting down on future costs and time.

I also believe that the City’s other colleges and universities can and should do more to open their doors and provide access for Philadelphia students. As Mayor, I will work to create a model similar to El Paso, Texas’ “Achieving the Dream” initiative. El Paso Community college and the University of Texas El Paso partnered with twelve local school districts to implement a college readiness protocol. Before graduating from high school, students learn about and prepare for college placement tests, receive additional instruction on test improvement, and even attend summer-bridge programs to strengthen their skills. Finally, in their senior year, students complete one joint application for both schools, making the application process easier and less costly for students. There’s no reason we can’t have a similar program here in Philadelphia.

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?

We must explore all other options before we ask our already-over taxed working families to carry even more of the burden for funding our public schools. On Monday, I announced a plan that creates $105 million in additional recurring revenue for the school district by instituting zero based budgeting, modernizing our procurement system, revising the land value on our tax abated properties, and selling tax liens on properties held by speculators who have squatted on lots for years without redevelopment or investment. I favor those solutions because they ask our citizens receiving significant tax breaks to pay their fair share and demand that our government become more innovative and transparent in how we spend our money -- rather than a simple tax increase which does little to change the status quo of the School District simply going from budgetary crisis to crisis each year.

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.

Reports have found that for every $1 in tax abatement, the City sees a return of $2 in other tax revenue, mainly through increased wage taxes and realty transfer taxes. After the institution of the Actual Value Initiative, however, it has become clear that a number of tax abated properties are receiving extravagant benefits. A 2014 study found that the top twenty tax-abated properties, valued at over $2.1 billion, are only paying cumulatively $2.9 million annually.

While maintaining the tax abatement to ensure continued development, I would work with the Office of Property Assessment to increase the unimproved value on properties across the City, and specifically on vacant land, to more closely reflect the actual value of that land, as opposed to just an arbitrary percentage of the total assessed value. This will increase revenue from abated and vacant properties without increasing taxes on many Philadelphians who faced a substantial increase just a few years ago under AVI. Based on the nearly $6 billion of exempted value for property receiving an abatement, increasing land value slightly will provide an additional $15 million in recurring revenue which could all be directed to education.

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, my first priority will be to create a culture where police officers respect the rights of Philadelphians, and Philadelphians respect their officers. We must end practices that drive a wedge between citizens and police such as the use of "stop-and-frisk.” I will expand the use of proven methods like focused deterrence which create a positive relationship between police officers and citizens and drive down instances of violent crimes. I will also work to outfit every uniformed police officer with a body camera. Working closely with the FOP, the Police Department, and other stakeholders, this new requirement will help to protect citizens from possible abuse and protect police officers from false allegations.

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.

The Philadelphia Gas Works has evolved and improved by leaps and bounds over the last fifteen years. Instead of costing the City precious General Fund dollars, PGW has begun making their yearly contributions again, and the company as a whole is much more stable financially than in years past. Instead of looking to sell this valuable asset, we should be looking to expand its capabilities and ramp-up the replacement of the City’s aging gas infrastructure. As Mayor, I will work to partner PGW with private entities to expand production capabilities at PGW’s LNG facility, and use that increased revenue to speed-up pipe replacement much faster than PGW’s current 88-year plan.

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?

Given Philadelphia’s significant access to natural gas resources, it is only matter of time before a corporation attempts to create an energy hub in or near our city. The sooner the city government gets involved in that process the more influence we’ll have over the responsible development of our natural resources. As mayor, I will work to ensure that our City has a healthy balance of renewable and traditional energy jobs, that those jobs go to Philadelphians, and that our natural gas resources are managed responsibly and safely. I have a strong record of managing responsible development. Last year, I supported a measure to reduce local sulfur emissions, and called for the City to purchase more environmentally friendly vehicles. I also passed a bill require energy benchmarking for the City's large buildings and created the first City Council committee on the Environment.

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

As mayor, I will push for an innovative, holistic approach to job creation, one that recognizes that the businesses that line our neighborhood's commercial corridors are as critical to the health of our economy as the businesses occupying downtown skyscrapers. This means targeted City investments in neighborhood corridors to allow them to grow. These corridors includes not just Center City, but every neighborhood from Southwest to the Far Northeast, from Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy to Parkside and Pennsport. I was proud to work closely with the community groups that funded the redevelopment of East Passyunk Avenue as a member of the business improvement district’s board, which provided a great example of investment in mixed use development leading to neighborhood growth. As Mayor, I will work to revitalize Philadelphia's commercial corridors using a similar model. I will also work with the new Philadelphia Land Bank to capitalize on our land assets to entice businesses to locate in neighborhoods and hire local residents.

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?

By instituting zero-based budgeting, I believe we can cut our spending inefficiencies across all our departments and increase investments primarily in our School District. Rather than simply building off of the previous year’s budget amount and factoring in a slight increase, zero-based budgeting has every department start from scratch and build in the programs and costs from there. Facing a $10 million budget deficit, Montgomery County undertook zero-based budgeting and was able to identify $43 million dollars in savings in a $370 million budget – almost 9% of the total budget – over a three year period. Conservatively estimating a savings of only two percent through Zero Based Budgeting, Philadelphia will have $80 million to reinvest in schools or universal pre-k.

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.

I believe that locating, cultivating and maintaining access to green space in every Philadelphia neighborhood is vital to the success and growth of the City. The ecological, environmental, and social benefits of these urban oases are great, and as Mayor, I will provide City support to community and neighborhood groups to develop and enhance green spaces throughout the City.

I will also work to make City government more energy efficient. In 2006 as a City Councilmember, I was one of the first proponents of enhancing and improving Philadelphia's vehicle fleet by purchasing hybrid vehicles. Philadelphia has made some headway on this issue, but as Mayor, I will push all City Departments to embrace these energy efficient alternatives to both reduce our carbon emissions and to save taxpayer funds on fuel. I also believe that Philadelphia must make investments in making our City buildings increasingly energy efficient. In 2014, along with my City Council colleagues, I pushed for the Department of Public Property to study all police stations and firehouses to determine necessary repairs and enhancements to make the buildings safer and cheaper to operate. As Mayor, I will continue this effort, and make investments in Philadelphia's public infrastructure to protect our environment and save money for future generations.

I will also push large property owners to reduce energy use. I was proud to support the Building Energy Benchmarking Ordinance in 2012. Under this law, building owners and operators with over 50,000 square feet of space must disclose their energy use and water consumption, with this information publicly accessible on the internet. The initial goal of the legislation was to reduce energy consumption by 10% in 2015, but we must go further. As Mayor, I will continue this requirement for reporting, and push property owners and operators to do whatever they can to continue to reduce energy use and improve efficiency.

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).

I was on City Council for twenty-three years and during that time I had to cast incredibly difficult votes, whether it was a property tax increase to keep our schools open or facing down the city’s municipal unions over DROP. But at the end of the day, I have managed to maintain a broad diverse coalition - which includes endorsements from the National Organization for Women, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, Firefighter as well as Brian Sims and other LGBT leaders - because my decisions were always based in what I passionately believed was best for the city of Philadelphia, not political calculus. That decision making process has earned me the respect and friendship of a very diverse group of Philadelphians, and it will allow me to implement unpopular policies that are for the greater good of the city.

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